Sorry, Boris, your cuts just don’t add up

January 26, 2013 12:12 pm

This week we have seen the Coalition Government’s statistics called into question. The numbers they use to justify their cuts seem to be cover for their ideological preference to cut back the state – leading to claims of ‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics!’.

In London Boris Johnson is doing the same and it’s a bit like a Punch and Judy show at City Hall at the moment – we accuse Boris of cutting police numbers and he flatly denies it. In fact, he says, he is increasing police numbers. We accuse him of putting Londoners safety and security at risk through the proposed cuts to the Fire Service due to attendance times increasing. Boris says this isn’t true and there will only be a marginal delay in a fire engine attending an incident. We say why won’t he stand up for London on the NHS and he says … not a lot actually.

The figures being used by the Mayor to justify his cuts to police and fire are highly manipulated and his cuts simply don’t add up.

The figures he uses to claim an increase in police numbers are based on a low point in 2011 during a recruitment freeze. Rather than the high point in 2010 when the investment put in under Ken Livingstone and the last government meant record numbers. Boris’s plans will also strip out police officers from Safer Neighbourhood Teams and also cut the number of police in two thirds of London’s boroughs compared to 2010. PCSOs are also seeing cuts that lead us to think the role is being phased out by stealth (they are extremely popular with the public but not so popular with the police). PCSO numbers will fall by 70% – there were 4,322 in 2010 with only 1,304 planned for 2015.

Remember that only last year Boris was re-elected on a pledge to get 1,000 more Police in London.

The Mayor – and his policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh – are aiming to cut 20% from the Policing budget, improve public confidence by 20% and see a 20% cut in recorded crime. This is the “20:20:20” plan. It sounds too neat. It’s the kind of gimmick thought up by one of Boris’s overpaid advisers who has then got someone with a calculator to come up with figures to fit the soundbite.

The figures being used to support the proposals to cut fire services in London are similar. They are designed to make you doubt the obvious – that less is clearly not more. Less is sometimes just less. While it’s true that we would also have had to make cuts, and that real efficiency savings are important, sometimes the language of ‘efficiency savings’ mask unacceptably deep cuts to our emergency services. These cuts are too far, and too fast and are putting the safety and security of Londoners at risk.

We have opposed cuts to London’s fire budget of £45m over the next two years. We have highlighted the impact of station closures on target times for fire appliance getting to fires. Time matters, over the past decade the performance of the London Fire Brigade and the safety of Londoners has increased. We do not want a return to the bad old days.

The current target time for fire engine attendance is six minutes for the first appliance and eight for the second. The fact that there will be an increase in the average time it takes for a fire engine to reach an incident is not disputed – this is predicted to increase from 4 to 10 minutes.

The Mayor talks about average attendance times by Boroughs or across London. This makes the increase in times look marginal. But the cuts to stations and appliances don’t impact on a uniform London-wide basis. These cuts hit areas immediately around the stations that are closing and stations that are losing a fire engine. The key point is not the average increase, but the maximum increase. The increase should be estimated on at most a local ward level, but ideally a postcode level. This is possible to do (and publish) through similar modeling exercises to that currently being used to justify the cuts. It doesn’t take a statistics degree to explain why this detail hasn’t been published.

Feedback from London Labour’s 999 SOS campaign and from Party members running petitions locally shows that even people who never, or seldom vote Labour, are willing to sign up to save our emergency services.

Boris’s figures don’t add up – he is weak on cuts to our vital emergency services. He is failing to stand up for Londoners and is trying to keep his fingerprints off his cuts. We cannot allow him to get away with this attack on London’s frontline emergency services.

Fiona Twycross is a Labour Londonwide Assembly Member

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