Bournemouth: Theresa May Speaks To Police Federation

20 May 2015, 17:16 | Updated: 20 May 2015, 17:20

Theresa May's been speaking in Bournemouth - and accused the Police Federation of "crying wolf'' and "scaremongering'' over the impact of austerity - as she warned officers to brace for fresh cuts.

A year after she launched a blistering attack on the organisation, the Home Secretary struck an uncompromising tone once again.

Addressing the federation's annual conference, she dismissed a welter of alarming rhetoric about the future of policing and public safety.

She said she accepts that ``delivering more with less can be challenging and difficult'' but added: ``This weekend, the Federation warned that spending reductions mean that we'll be 'forced to adopt a paramilitary style' of policing in Britain.

``Today you've said that neighbourhood police officers are an 'endangered species'.

``I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good - it doesn't serve you, it doesn't serve the officers you represent, and it doesn't serve the public.''

She reeled off a list of previous warnings issued by the federation, which represents 125,000 rank and file officers.

These included claims of ``demoralised'' and ``angry'' officers, as well as suggestions that the public was being put in danger.

Mrs May said: ``The truth is that crime fell in each of those years, it's fallen further since, and our country is safer than it's ever been.

``So please - for your sake and for the thousands of police officers who work so hard every day - this crying wolf has to stop.''

Mrs May began by thanking members for the ``dedication and spirit of public service you show in your jobs every day''.

The Home Secretary said: ``Your members strive to keep us and our families safe and take risks so the rest of us can live in peace.''

She congratulated the federation for accepting recommendations for reform that were proposed last year, adding: ``I have always said that in this country we have the finest policemen in the world, and they deserve a federation that serves them well.''

Mrs May insisted crime was falling and her reforms were working, while she also confirmed for the first time since the Conservatives' election victory that police are facing further financial squeezes.

Slashing public spending was necessary to put the economy back on track, she told the conference in Bournemouth.

``I know that all this does not mean that spending cuts have not been difficult or painful,'' she said.

``The last five years have shown that it is possible to do more with less - crime has fallen, the frontline service has been maintained, and public confidence in the police is up, even as spending has reduced.

``But the deficit remains too high and more savings will need to be made and policing will have to play its part.

``There is no ducking the fact that police spending will have to come down again.''

Mrs May, making her first speech since being reappointed as Home Secretary, said she ``simply does not accept'' claims that ``there is no more waste to cut''.

She said: ``It is perfectly possible to make savings without affecting the quality of neighbourhood policing.

``Because I know - as you do - that there is still wasteful spending in policing and that resources are still not linked to demand.''

Mrs May stressed the need to protect frontline services and ensure crime continues to fall.

She added: ``So it is not going to be enough to shave off a bit of excess here, and reduce some bureaucracy there. That is good, but reform needs to go much deeper than that.''

Mrs May promised she would listen to propositions that are ``for the good of policing'' and ``do everything I can'' to ``reduce unnecessary demand'' on officers.

Calling on the federation to ``work with me'', she continued: ``I can - as I have for the last five years - reform the police without the support of the federation.

``But the opportunity to work constructively with government should make the world of difference to you. So join me and work with me to change policing.

``So the choice is yours and it is clear.

``You can choose to protest, and continue to shout angrily from the sidelines for the next five years. Or you can choose partnership, and work with me to change policing for the better.''

Earlier, in his keynote speech, the federation's chairman Steve White delivered a damning assessment on the Government's approach to policing, claiming it is failing to protect its citizens.

In contrast to the silence during the Home Secretary's speech, his impassioned address earned several rounds of applause from officers gathered at the BIC.

Mr White implored the Home Secretary to listen to warnings that funding cuts have left forces ``stretched to the limit''.

He insisted they were not ``scaremongering'' over consequences of cuts. ``If the public aren't scared, perhaps they would be if they knew just how few cops were on the night shift while they slept last night.''

Mr White made a pointed reference to Mrs May's appearance at last year's conference.

``We learn to put up with the criticism,'' he said. ``The abuse. The jeering and dirty looks. The scowls of anger and derision.

``And that was just from you at our conference last year, Home Secretary.''

The comments drew applause from the audience while Mrs May sat stony-faced.

Mr White called on the Government to ``at least have a conversation'' about the structure of policing, suggesting a model of one nationwide force should be explored.

Following the speeches, he denied the federation was ``crying wolf'' and said allegations of scaremongering were ``utter nonsense''.

However, Mr White described Mrs May as ``less combative than last year'' and insisted the body was willing to work with her.

On warnings of fresh cuts, he said they were ``deeply concerned'' but added: ``We weren't expecting her to turn up and say she is reversing the cuts.''