Hundreds of Hampshire police at risk over government demands for extra pension payments

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane
Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane

SENIOR police bosses have been left scrambling to plug a budget black hole as they fear increased pensions contributions could leave them £4m out of pocket.

PGovernment has asked police forces to pay more toward pension liabilities – with concerns that money could come from individual force’s budgets.

The News understands a worst case scenario in Hampshire reveals this could mean up to 350 officer and staff posts could be under threat.

Since 2010 nearly 1,000 jobs have been lost at Hampshire police, with specialist units disbanded and bosses admitting they are struggling to keep up with an increasing demand.

Hampshire police has cut £82m from its budget between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

Alex Charge represents rank-and-file police officers as Hampshire Police Federation chairman.

Mr Charge said: ‘It’s a bad news story for residents of Hampshire.

‘It’s going to make it more and more difficult for police officers to do the effective and good job  they want to do.’

Mr Charge added: ‘Cops want to provide a really good service to the public but it’s very difficult to do that with an ever decreasing budget.’

In a statement to The News, deputy chief constable Sara Glen said ‘pressure on operational policing in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight has never been higher’ and that the force is ‘working on a range of scenarios’.

She added: ‘There is also a great deal of speculation about an increased cost to policing and increased pension costs needing to come off the base line policing budget.

‘As yet this has not been confirmed and we are working on a range of scenarios.’

The National Police Chiefs’ Council warned the pension changes, notified to police in September, could see a loss of ‘10,000 officers from an already badly overstretched service’.

Crime commissioner Michael Lane insisted the £4m loss was one scenario, and is lobbying government to allow the force to spread payments over a number of years.

It’s understood the costs could increase to £11m in the second year.

Speaking to The News, Mr Lane warned he wanted his force to come up with a ‘range of options’ to counter the loss in cash – down to a police pay rise and force pension contributions.

He stressed no decision to cut 350 jobs had been made. Hampshire had 2,835 officers as of March this year, Home Office figures show. This is down from 3,193 in 2010.

Commissioner Mr Lane said: ‘I think the announcement of the pension change took us all by a little or a lot of surprise depending on which constabulary you’re working in.

‘We had, in my budget, a small amount of money as a hedge against risk - this is much greater than that.’

His team is currently drawing up a budget to put forward next year. In January this year he won approval for a £12 hike in the council tax police precept.

Mr Lane added: ‘If I get £12 as a (government) cap this year there’s only one option - and I don’t know if we will - the room to manoeuvre is completely removed by the pension and pay rise.’

Mr Lane said there were ‘tensions’ in setting the budget.

‘My belief is that we are cut very fine,’ he said.

But he made clear that those working in ‘policing should be paid appropriately and receive the appropriate pension’, and added he was ‘delighted’ there had been an improvement.

Chief constables from West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside forces spoke out this week warning of losing hundreds of officers following the Treasury demand.

Police watchdog HMICFRS found Hampshire police is underfunded by government by £45m.

Former crime commissioner Simon Hayes, who was also previously chairman of the county’s police authority, said: ‘Public expectation is greater than Hampshire police can deliver, officers from top to bottom are pressurised to a degree that concerns me.

‘I won’t say breaking point, but it must be closer to it than I’ve seen over 25 years I’ve been involved with policing in Hampshire. The situation is very serious.’