In today’s Observer Sir Hugh Orde argues that the cuts to police funding being proposed by the Conservatives for after the election, layered on top of the cuts that have already happened, put the ability of the police to fulfil their basic functions at risk. He argues that the police force is near a ‘tipping point’.
No doubt someone somewhere in the bowels of Conservative HQ is crafting a rebuttal that will argue this is special pleading from a high profile representative of an interest group, seeking to make a splash on his way out. Or something like that. The rebuttal may have been launched already.
But Sir Hugh’s comments do raise an interesting and important analytical question. Where is the tipping point? And what happens when we pass it?
We know that the Conservatives are proposing to continue savage cuts to non-protected services for several years to come. And the plans of the other parties, even if a little less savage, are not much more generous. The focus of the argument is on shirking the state and what might be the most sensible timescale for aiming to achieve a budget surplus.
But the whole strategy only makes sense if you assume one of two premises. Either it is assumed that you can keep cutting budgets without affecting services in ways that are materially significant – public services can take advantage of effectively infinite efficiency gains. Or it is assumed that the public services were doing lots of things that are of no social value and so stopping doing them will make no difference to anything.
There is also, it would appear, relatively little consideration of whether cuts to some parts of the public services are of greater significance than others – or whether all are equally required to swallow unpleasant medicine in order to ensure that pensioners can continue to be bribed to vote Conservative.
But all of this seems to fly in the face of even rudimentary thinking about society and the institutions that are necessary to underpin it. [Read more…]