After some seven consecutive years of cuts to the policing budget with pay rises restricted to a mere one percent or frozen, policing in Gloucestershire reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia where, ‘it was always winter, but never Christmas’.
The officers and staff adapted well to the climate. First, they did more for less; then even more; then they began to struggle to do the same as their numbers tumbled. Now, as the operating climate has become even more harsh, they work ever harder to manage the increasing demands placed upon them.
Every minute of every day they must be ready to respond to a terrorist attack; a serious crash on our roads; domestic abuse; a missing person and so the list goes on. And yet I am frequently heartened by their acts of bravery; their determination to keep us safe and their basic good humour to ‘just get on with it’.
The county should also be heartened that its Constabulary is in good shape both operationally and financially unlike some other larger forces who are struggling. To quote Darwin ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.
With just over a thousand officers, compared to thirty thousand in London, I would not claim that Gloucestershire is the strongest, but I do think we were smart enough to recognise the need to adapt early and change quickly. That has been the story of policing in this county in recent years whilst at the same time keeping and valuing the very best of our history and heritage.
Just as change has been vital to our survival, much of it has also been for the better. My brief to the chief constable on his first day was clear, ‘Give us a balanced and optimised police force, that’s well-equipped, well-trained and highly motivated’. Yet despite all that change and the good will from the officers, staff and public it still feels like winter - and it cannot continue for much longer.
Officers and staff are becoming weary of winter. It’s taking its toll on their health both physically and mentally and the strain is beginning to show. So far, the public have been very supportive but they want more. And while many other public services have been withdrawn or disappeared, that is not an option that is available to any of the emergency services. Our urban, rural and on line communities want more policing, not less. In fact, demand for policing services has never been greater and yet the resources only get smaller.
Gloucestershire receives just £85.30 per head of population from the main central grant compared to the national average £104.50 per head of population and clearly that’s not fair. Yes, ours is still a safe place to live and work but it is far from immune to the increasing threat of violent drug gangs and criminals who wrongly see the county as a soft touch.
I am not optimistic an end to winter is in sight because unlike in the fairy tale, there is no magic wardrobe to go through that will hasten the thaw. But with growing pressure from MPs across the political spectrum, perhaps the best hope is that the Government will come to recognise the disparity in their figures and that the sun will shine again sooner rather than later.