Police 'have kept performing in spite of cuts. It's a credit to my staff' - chief constable Tim Hollis
CHIEF Constable Tim Hollis has been dealt a rough hand and he knows it – even if he stops short at taking a swipe at those who control central Government's purse strings.
And the man at the helm of Humberside Police fully expects more turbulent times beyond March 2015 – the end of this round of savage cuts.
However, Mr Hollis maintains the force, although far from home and dry, is weathering the storm without the public being adversely affected.
It is a bold statement to make, considering the force stands to lose 700 staff – including 440 officers.
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The average officer reduction across England and Wales is 10 per cent. In stark contrast, there will be 21 per cent fewer Humberside Police officers.
At Priory Road Police Station in west Hull, Mr Hollis has just finished reading a report produced by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) titled Policing In Austerity: One Year On.
Roger Baker, HM Inspector of Constabulary for the northern region, concludes the force is implementing its plan well, but issues a veiled warning to Mr Hollis about making such severe cuts to frontline policing.
Mr Baker said: "Humberside Police has put in place a comprehensive change programme to manage the reductions in its budget.
"As a result, they are in a good position to achieve their savings target by March 2015.
"However, by the end of the savings period Humberside Police will have a lower proportion of its police officers in frontline policing than in most other forces.
"The force should consider how it can improve its crime-fighting capacity to help keep the public in Humberside safe."
Mr Hollis, who admits he has never known such austerity measures, has one eye on the Excel spreadsheets and the other on public satisfaction polls.
He knows the public want, and expect, to see bobbies patrolling their streets and catching criminals.
But the reality of the crisis is laid bare in the title of the HMIC report.
Mr Hollis said: "Anyone who suggests you can take 20 per cent out of the police budget without making an impact on operational policing is not being frank with the public."
He answers to Humberside Police Authority, which will be replaced in November by a yet-to-be elected police and crime commissioner.
Mr Hollis said: "Humberside Police Authority has, quite rightly, insisted they hand over a balanced budget to the new police and crime commissioner.
"But if you cut the budget, you cut staff numbers. We have taken strenuous efforts to ensure we use officers where their warranted powers are required and police staff where they are not.
"That has, inevitably, changed the mixture of our workforce and we are further progressed than many other police force.
"It is not simply about officer numbers, it's about how you use all our staff – that includes significant numbers of special constables and volunteers."
Mr Hollis asks the public to reconsider the term "frontline policing", insisting the nature of policing has changed significantly in recent years.
"If you ask someone to define frontline policing they will undoubtedly tell you it's about bobbies on the beat," he said. "I understand that and I am proud my officers are held in high regard.
"But I would argue detectives sitting in a police station trying to catch paedophiles who roam the internet, or those involved in fraud, taking money out of your bank account, are just as 'frontline'."
"What use is a bobby patrolling a street going to be in these situations?"
Mr Hollis insists, like many taxpayer-funded organisations, Humberside Police had fat around its edges that it can afford to lose without having an adverse impact on the public.
But he concedes the extent of the cuts surprised him.
He said: "Seven years ago the HMIC suggested a reduction in police budgets of 12 per cent but Humberside Police needs to save £23 million by March 2015 – a 20 per cent reduction."
In August 2010, in a frank interview with the Mail, Mr Hollis said he would not rule out crime increasing if significant chunks of his budget, which this year stands at £185 million, was lost.
According to the latest HMIC report, crime levels in the Humberside Police area are stable, compared with a 3 per cent drop across England and Wales.
On the face of it, Mr Hollis's prediction is beginning to be realised, but he disputes the figure.
"The figures the HMIC refer to are from December 2010 to December 2011," said Mr Hollis. "If you look at the full year-on-year figures you will see crime is falling.
"Crime continues to go down year by year across Humberside. For 2011-12 it was down by 7 per cent, more than the national average.
"We are maintaining performance in spite of the cuts and associated changes. This reflects great credit on all my staff."
Latest polls indicate most people are happy with the quality of service they receive from the police despite the cut-backs now being in full swing.
Mr Hollis said: "Public confidence and satisfaction in the police across Humberside and nationally is high and continues to increase as we reaffirm our commitment to delivering a good quality of service.
"Frankly, if politicians were getting levels of over 80 per cent I think they'd be delighted."
Asked if this was a veiled swipe at the ministers, Mr Hollis grinned, adding: "You can draw your own conclusions.
"Police are public servants. The Government has made its decision. It's disappointing, yes. But we are striving to do the best we can for the public given the cuts.
"And we appear to be making a good fist of it."
To read the full report, visit www.hmic.gov.uk