Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, has criticised Assistant Commissioner John Yates (who heads the Counter-Terrorist network) for a PRIVATE briefing he gave to Police Chiefs yesterday.  However, the criticism comes across as a Minister shooting from the hip rather than anything else.

Francis Maude has apparently told the BBC 

“I’d like to avoid public servants doing this kind of shroud waving in public.  There is a special responsibility on all public servants to be really careful what we say and what we do.”

But the briefing concerned was not in public.  It was in private.

The event was a CLOSED session at the conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities.

The Times newspaper (behind its pay-wall, so no link) reported the speech on the basis of a conversation one of their reporters had with one of the those present and, according to this source, John Yates talked about the implications of the postulated 25% cut in police funding for counter-terrorism and security work. 

He is reported to have explained that the implications for the counter-terrorism budget were likely to mean that “the Metropolitan Police (Met) would see £87m wiped from its anti-terror budget, while units across the country would lose £62m.”

Is this shroud-waving?

Well, actually, it isn’t.

I remember the debates when police forces outside London were asked to host Counter-Terrorist Units and Counter-Terrorist Intelligence Units.  The forces concerned were naturally worried that they would be employing a substantial number of extra specialist officers and wanted to know what would happen if the funding was reduced or cut altogether.  Those extra officers could not be readily transferred to other duties (particularly if the force concerned already had a restricted budget) and there is no simple way of making police officers redundant. 

Quite properly, ACPO acknowledges – as I understand did John Yates – that police forces have to face cuts in the same way as other areas of public spending and their spokesperson said:

“The home secretary has made clear that alongside other areas of public spending, policing must deliver its share of savings to meet the fiscal deficit.”

And went on:

“No area of policing is immune.”

So, if the Treasury is pressing ahead with the Comprehensive Spending Review, so that the results can be announced in October, which it is, and, if the Home Office is to produce its figures for the Treasury by the end of July, which it does, that has certain consequences.  

Not surprisingly, the Home Office has asked the budget-holders who deliver the component parts of the Home Office budget to provide their figures to the Home Office very soon.  And that will include those parts of the police service that are responsible for counter-terrorism and security.

It would be a rather strange way of managing ANY public service for the person responsible NOT to take the opportunity of briefing those who might be left with a substantial contingent liability as a result of decisions that are in the process of being taken.

So John Yates was not shroud-waving, he was making sure – as any good manager would – that those likely to be directly affected by a decision – and who will have to implement it – were kept fully informed.

Let no-one be under any illusions, there will be consequences of a 25% cut in police expenditure on counter-terrorism and security, just as there will be for a similar cut in other forms of policing and just as there will be for other areas of public spending that are cut. 

No doubt we will all want to debate the implications when those decisions are finalised, but in the meantime Francis Maude should let senior managers get on with the job – and that includes briefing those affected.

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