The government could be failing in its legal duty to safeguard the Manx public if police cuts go any deeper than they are now, according to a Douglas MHK.
John Houghton, member for Douglas North, said an obligation imposed under the Police Act requiring maintenance of an adequate police force could be breached if further cuts were imposed on the force.
To this end, his motion, tabled at the final Tynwald sitting before the summer recess, asked for current funding to be ringfenced preventing it from falling any further.
‘The police have had £2 million stripped from their original budget taking it from £15.5 million to £13.5 million so they are now operating at rock bottom this year,’ Mr Houghton said.
The result of this could be the withdrawal of night time cover, on five nights of the week, from areas outside Douglas which would simply be policed by a roving patrol car. Cover would be maintained on the busy Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Houghton said.
‘I’m not trying to undo what’s been done. I’m not trying to save Port Erin and Lord Street police stations. They have gone. The Act gives no figures to suggest what funding is reasonable so it has to be down to the word of the Chief Constable and he has already said he is now at rock bottom,’ Mr Houghton said.
There has been some loss of manpower to the tune of 36 police bringing overall numbers down to 210 full time equivalents by the autumn, as staff have retired or left and not been replaced.
Mr Houghton said he had heard horror stories of situations in the UK where police manpower was cut so far that police would not prioritise responding to a burglary unless an intruder was actually still known to be in the property.
‘Anything less than that and you just get a crime number. We must never get to that level,’ he said.
Asked if the £2.75 million approved at this month’s Tynwald sitting to fund a new custody suite would be better spent on more manpower in the force, he said sources of funding were different, with the building programme coming out of the capital budget: ‘If we spent it on extra staff it would be gone in 18 months then we would need more,’ he said.
Other emergency services such as the island’s fire brigade are also feeling the squeeze. Cuts need to be managed carefully, especially in an island setting because there is no potential to call for back-up from services in neighbouring counties should a huge incident occur, he said.
In fact, Mr Houghton’s motion was postponed until the October sitting of Tynwald at the suggestion of Onchan MHK Peter Karran, who said it would be more meaningful to have the debate in the presence of Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson who was not at that sitting.
‘We need the input of the Minister for Home Affairs in order for this to be a fair debate,’ he said.
Mr Karran’s motion to postpone was seconded by Treasury Minister Eddie Teare who said if the debate resumed in October the matter could also be considered in the light of the Chief Constable’s report.
Acting Attorney General John Quinn confirmed the Police Act required the Department of Home Affairs to maintain an ‘effective’ police force to uphold law and order.
Mr Karran’s motion was passed and the debate will now take place in October.