Labour London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE AM was left unimpressed by Mayor Boris Johnson’s apology at yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time for his ‘oversight’ when he failed to consult with local stakeholders about the planned closure of Waltham House Police Station on Kirkdale Road, Leytonstone, Waltham Forest.
The plans to close Waltham House came to light in mid-September, and led to a backlash from local representatives and residents because of the disregard the Mayor’s Office of Police and Crime (MOPAC) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) gave for failing to consult them properly about the decision, and for putting financial gains above residents’ safety and confidence in policing.
When pressed on the proposed closure of Waltham House, specifically, Mr. Johnson said he was sorry “if there had been some oversight” when it came to communicating the plans. This will leave people concerned that not only was he unaware of the situation at Waltham House, but that he also fails to grasp the full extent of the frustration and upset that these plans have had on the people of Waltham Forest. Furthermore, when pressed to give an answer about plans to cut Contact Points around London, he failed to offer any reassurance, adding: “We’re reviewing them … but I’m afraid I can’t give you the answer”, which leads to concerns that more Contact Points across London could also be vulnerable.
Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, Jennette Arnold OBE AM, said:
“When it comes to the proposed plans to close Waltham House Police Station, the Mayor’s apology for failing to communicate with local residents and representatives is flimsy, unacceptable and too little too late. I am deeply concerned that this conditional apology not only suggests that he wasn’t aware of the situation at Waltham House, but also fails to grasp the seriousness of the situation. He has been elected to represent the views of Londoners, and failing to communicate with the residents of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest about this important plan to close a local police station smacks of ineptitude and arrogance.
“The Mayor has agreed to write to me formally with an explanation and to outline his plans for Waltham House, and I look forward to receiving this as soon as possible so that people’s minds can be put at rest. Rest assured, I am not impressed by the Mayor’s handling of this situation, and will be doing all I can to ensure that the people of Leytonstone get a full explanation and, more importantly, have a police service that they need in the local area.”
Jennette Arnold OBE is a Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest
A video of Mayor’s Question Time from Wednesday 22 October where Boris Johnson was asked about Waltham House by the Chair of the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, Joanne McCartney, can be found here.
Latest figures show that forces in Hackney face a 8% vacancy rate; Islington 8%; and Waltham Forest 11%. This leaves Hackney without 17 sergeants and 35 constables; Islington without 9 sergeants and 38 constables; and Waltham Forest without 19 sergeants and 53 constables. Figures also show a £13.7m Met underspend on police officer pay, suggesting that that vacancies have been sitting open as part of a cost saving exercise.
New figures obtained by my colleague, Labour London Assembly Member Joanne McCartney, show that in May this year (the latest period available) there were 1,209 vacancies for police sergeants and constables across the capital’s borough forces.
The high vacancy rates come on top of significant cuts in police numbers since the Government came to power, with official figures showing 171 police officers and PCSOs cut from Hackney’s streets; and 161 from Islington’s streets (although, conversely, an increase of 19 officers and PCSOs on Waltham Forest’s streets) between May 2010 and May 2014, and 4,694 from London’s streets overall. A report last year also found that the Met’s proportion of officers deemed ‘visible’ was the third lowest in England and Wales.
Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest are three of 14 London boroughs with vacancy rates of over 6%, with five facing double digit deficits, including Waltham Forest. Harrow is shown to have the highest percentage of vacancies, with 15% of its sergeant and constable posts unfilled. Waltham Forest had the highest overall number, with 72 vacancies from a force of 664.
The figures were revealed after HMIC warned that “forces across England and Wales plan to achieve most of their savings by reducing the number of police officers, PCSOs and police staff… most of the savings [of the MPS] come from reducing the size of the workforce.”
In his manifesto Boris Johnson pledged to put more officers on the beat. In reality what we have seen is a net decrease of 313 police officers and PCSOs cut from my constituency’s streets since this Government came to power. Now we learn that on top of that between 8%-11% of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest’s sergeants and constables are missing due to unfilled vacancies, that’s 171 extra officers who should be on the streets of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. It is an absolute scandal that police numbers have been allowed to fall this low, these vacancies are leaving a gaping hole at the heart of the our local police force.
Whilst a small churn in the number of officers is to be expected, these are deeply concerning figures. With 52 police officer positions unfilled in Hackney; 47 unfilled in Islington; and 72 in Waltham Forest, we need to ask not only what impact that has on policing, but why the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has allowed it to happen in the first place. Either the depth of officer morale is so low they are haemorrhaging officers, or these posts are being kept open to keep costs down. Either way the Mayor should take immediate action to ensure our police force is up to strength and vacancies are filled as quickly as possible.
- Police vacancy figures across London boroughs (as of 31 May 2014) were supplied in response to a question to the Mayor from Joanne McCartney AM. The combination of borough vacancies and neighbourhood policing team vacancies totalled 1,209.
- A breakdown of police vacancies by borough is available here.
- Actual police officer strength across London boroughs (as of May 2014) were published on London Datastore (figures are accessible via the raw data link, and then by clicking on Police Officers and Staff Numbers, by Borough/Business Unit).
- The MPS has the third lowest proportion of officers that are deemed ‘visible’ in England and Wales 2013-14, at 52%. (Value for Money Profiles, HMIC, November 2013, p 43).
- HMIC warned that “… most of the savings [of the MPS] come from reducing the size of the workforce.” In its report Responding to Austerity – Metropolitan Police Service (p 16).
- The June 2014 MOPAC monitoring report stated that there was a £13.7m underspend on police officer pay in 2013/14 (MOPAC Monthly Report to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee – June 2014, Appendix One, p 6).