London Mayor 2024: Why didn’t the Met hire more cops?

London Mayor 2024: Why didn’t the Met hire more cops?

It’s been almost a year since we heard that the Metropolitan Police Service was alone in England and Wales in failing to hire all the officers the government had given it money for by the deadline of last March. It didn’t miss its target completely – 3,468 new cops were recruited. But that left it about 1,000 shy of its target.

This shortfall has been seized on by Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall and blamed on Sadiq Khan. “Do you ever wonder why we don’t see many police on our streets any more?” she asks in a new social media video, before ascribing the putative dearth to the Labour Mayor. There follows a now-familiar bunch of cherry-picked statistics to make the case that the failure ascribed to Khan is the reason there aren’t more Met street patrols, is the reason those statistical cherries exist.

Hall’s assertions about crime levels and any relationship they may have with the quantity of “bobbies on the beat” can be examined another day. But let’s restrict ourselves for now to the matter of why the Met was unable to attract the full 4,557 newcomers it went looking for.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley addressed the issue at the time when appearing before the Commons Home Affairs committee. He highlighted reductions in real terms pay for officers and the series of scandals that had damaged the Met’s reputation.

Baroness Casey’s scathing review of Met standards had come out the month before, which seems unlikely to have made joining the Met more appealing. It was therefore not surprising that in September when he appeared at the first meeting of the London Policing Board, a scrutiny body formed on Casey’s advice, Rowley made the same points again.

He also talked about being expected to give back to the government the £60 million the Met would have otherwise spent on the 1,000 recruits it hadn’t found.

“I could make really good use of that, recruiting police staff,” he said. ‘We’ve got too many police officers doing support jobs like HR [human resources] because we’re geared wrong as a force between staff and officers.”

He said that if he was allowed to spend the £60 million on employing 1,100 or 1,200 non-police staff, it would help him release 1,000 officers from doing support jobs and put them “on the frontline” instead. Perhaps “the frontline” would have include more of the street patrols Hall maintains would reduce crime.

Such facts are, of course, absent from Hall’s alternative reality. The same goes for that of Chris Philp, the excitable policing minister and MP for Croydon South who has been making the same accusation.

There is no room either in those Conservatives’ accounts for why, in 2019, the Conservative government then led by Boris Johnson had been moved to provide funds for a 20,000 “uplift” in police office numbers in England and Wales as a whole in the first place. It was because numbers had been falling as a result of previous Conservative government cuts to police funding, including in the Met.

This brings us to why so many Met officers are spending time on non-policing duties in the first place. It is one result of the same Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London having to find ways of accommodating the Conservative government funding reductions which in March 2015 he said amounted to £500 million for the period 2013/14 to 2015/16 rising to £800 million by 2020. This was from a total Met budget of about £3.6 billion, so quite a slice.

Johnson told the London Assembly that the Met was on course to exceed the £500 million target and went on to explain that he wished to “intensify” the search for savings in areas such as “buildings” and “backroom staff”. To concentrate on such areas, Johnson said, was correct and necessary in order to avoid making cuts to “frontline policing”.

Savings from buildings included closing and selling off police stations and other operational premises. Johnson had previously lined up for the axe 63 “front counters” where people could personally report crime – almost half the London total – a figure that grew to 79. By 2016, over 20 police stations had been sold under this programme, which Khan inherited along with the same need to bridge the Met funding gap. This puts Hall’s indignation about a further 30-plus closures under Khan into perspective.

Then we come to “backroom staff” as Johnson called them. Soon after the Conservative-led coalition government’s funding cuts began, the Met under Johnson had made 900 civilian staff redundant. In 2012, it emerged that around 6,500 warranted police officers were doing some of the “backroom” jobs Johnson in 2015 said he wished to make further savings in. Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones put it to Johnson at the time that having insufficient numbers of civilian staff meant warranted officers were having to do their jobs instead.

The situation Rowley described to the London Policing Board in September is essentially the same one: an imbalance between the number of police officers the Met employees and the number of support staff. The latter is still too low, meaning too many police officers are still doing too much of the work that should be doing done by support staff. He’s made the same point again more recently, to the Assembly’s police and crime committee, echoing a colleague’s description of the Met as “an organisation that’s out of balance” and “out of shape”.

If only he’d been allowed by the government to spend the leftover £60 million he couldn’t spend on recruiting new officer on doing something about that. What does Susan Hall think?

Mark Rowley’s comments at last September’s London Policing Board meeting can be seen at 1hr 39 mins.

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Categories: Analysis

1 Comment

  1. Guy Lambert says:

    The story about police numbers vs civilian support people is hoary. I worked extensively with the cops in the 1990s/2000s when the Blair government was making a political virtue about more cops, so forces were recruiting coppers to do jobs that would be done better and cheaper by civilians. But civilians were lazy wasters whilst cops kept a halo around their helmet. I suspect something similar applies in other services – I remember when my daughter was in hospital as a toddler, the nurse spending hours on the phone trying to source clean sheets, for which her clinical training was essential.

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