Police pay cuts 'unavoidable' says home secretary

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Media captionWatch: Home Secretary Theresa May: "We struck a tough but fair settlement for police"

Pay cuts for police officers are essential in order to minimise front-line job losses at forces in England and Wales, the home secretary has said.

Three-quarters of the budget, £11bn, goes on pay, and Theresa May told force leaders in London that must change.

Mrs May said she wanted officers' pay to be frozen for two years along with that of other public sector workers.

Simon Reed, from the Police Federation, said she "clearly undervalued" the work of officers and morale would suffer.

The government is planning to cut its funding for the police by 20% by 2015.

Mrs May's speech comes ahead of the publication of a review of police wages and conditions next week.

The review, by former rail regulator Tom Winsor, will consider cuts to overtime payments, and housing and travel allowances, and will also suggest changes to shift patterns, and procedures for retirement and redundancy.

Police 'let down'

The home secretary told the meeting in Westminster the government had identified ways of making savings by cutting bureaucracy and improving the procurement of equipment and other services.

But she said: "There's no question that pay restraint and pay reform must form part of the package.

"I want to protect police jobs and keep officers on the street, and we can only do that if we reform pay and conditions for all officers."

The government announced last year that it would introduce a two-year pay freeze for all public sector workers earning £21,000 or more.

Mrs May said that subject to any recommendations from the police negotiating board, implementation of the freeze in 2011-12 and 2012-13 would save £350m.

During Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said the police were being "let down by a system that has far too many officers in back-office roles".

"That's what needs to change, along with some of the working practices that frankly aren't actually modern and up to date," he said.

"We need to make sure that happens so we keep the maximum number of police on the front line in our communities."

And he added: "As in so many areas we inherited a police service [that was] completely inefficient, not properly managed by the party opposite."

Earlier, the prime minister's official spokesman told reporters: "If you are going to find savings, pay is a good place to start."

'End bonuses'

But Mr Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said Mrs May's talk of reform was "a euphemism for cuts".

"She clearly undervalues what we do, despite what she says. Words are cheap, but actions speak louder," he said.

Mr Reed also said the pay freeze would mean "a considerable sacrifice" for officers and their families, and accused the home secretary of undermining the Winsor review by making her speech ahead of its publication.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government had "put chief constables in an impossible position with a 20% front-loaded cut to their budgets".

"This is a desperate and disingenuous attempt to distract people from the fact that whatever reforms are introduced, police forces across the country have already said they are being forced to cut the jobs of around 10,000 police officers," she added.

However, Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said officers were "realistic" and hoped wage cuts would save jobs.

"I think most of our staff would obviously understand that bargain," he added.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has suggested scrapping a host of additional payments and bonuses, as well as reducing the amount of overtime paid for working on public holidays.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has also called for an end to all bonuses for police officers.

But the BBC's home affairs correspondent Andy Tighe said there were fears within the Police Federation, which represents officers, that removing additional payments for anti-social or dangerous work could deter high-quality candidates from applying to join the police.

In 2008, the then Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith rejected a recommended pay increase, but was forced to back down after marches by officers.

Last year, a report by the independent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said spending on overtime in England and Wales had increased by 90% since 1998 despite a record rise in the number of officers.

The police overtime bill in 2009 was nearly £400m.

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