Top policeman’s appeal in face of huge budget cuts

Chief Insp. Chris Bithell at a press conference
Chief Insp. Chris Bithell at a press conference

Burnley’s top cop Chris Bithell has asked for the public’s support in the face of further swingeing cuts.

Chief Supt. Bithell warned there was not much meat left on the bone after Lancashire Constabulary’s budget was slashed by £60m. five years ago and admitted it was getting harder to protect frontline services.

The force must now find additional savings of between £20m. and £26m. by 2018 and Mr Bithell, who oversees East Division, said it was inevitable residents would start to see a change on the streets with all areas, including Neighbourhood Policing, under review.

“There’s no meat left on the bone. The cupboard isn’t far off being bare. There’s no exact figure but we can’t just keep cutting the number of police officers. We’re approaching a tipping point now.

“There are times when there are not enough police officers on the streets and I will say that. There are times when we don’t have enough coppers to go around but that’s in the extreme circumstance.”

Since 2009, Lancashire Constabulary has lost 700 police officers along with just less than 500 police staff.

Mr Bithell said the public could no longer expect officers to turn out for every incident. Instead, many are now offered appointment times, if the case is not an emergency, while some investigations are dealt with in their entirety over the phone.

“In essence this means there’s still the same number of police officers physically available to attend emergencies as there were before the cuts because of the way we have remodelled things,” said Mr Bithell.

“It’s a way of cutting our cloth to make sure we still have those sort of resources. We are not looking for the public’s sympathy, we are looking for their support and their understanding.”

While the cuts have been and continue to be challenging, Mr Bithell was keen to point out there had been positives.

“Change is very important and in some ways it’s been very healthy. It gives you a chance to review your practices and we have been able to look at refreshing certain things.

“What myself and other senior police officers would like to see though is a period of stability just to assess what the true impact has been of all the cuts so far. Policing is still a great job. It’s a fantastic job and morale is still good. These are challenging times but we will find these cuts and we will remain one of the leading forces in the country.”