UK: The cost of the Bill. (3 of 4)

UK: The cost of the Bill. (3 of 4) - Hunt is anxious to refute the suggestion that the police have had an easy time over the past 11 years, and says that the Met is now as squeezed as any public sector service. Clarke's flexible approach to his budget is

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Hunt is anxious to refute the suggestion that the police have had an easy time over the past 11 years, and says that the Met is now as squeezed as any public sector service. Clarke's flexible approach to his budget is, he says, the result of the management structure of the police. Flexibility is built into the financial structure of the organisation, so Clarke's freedom of manoeuvre is the product of good adaptable management rather than a cavalier attitude towards money, he says.

"The idea that we don't have to be money conscious is 10 years out of date," claims Hunt. "We're very aware of it. If we're asked to do something now the first question will be 'What's it going to cost?'."

Notwithstanding his claims to be on a par with other public sectors, however, Hunt was unaware of 1989's £17 million overspend, something that sits uneasily with his claim that money is tight. Equally odd is the secrecy in which the 1990-91 budget is shrouded - details remain confidential until the end of the period that it covers.

"If I overspent it wouldn't reflect well on me," says Clarke, but adds that the money would be found, particularly if he can point to a specific, extraordinary cause. Although he suspects that capping may be on its way, for the time being the lack of penalties leads to a very different attitude to that prevailing in town halls. Clarke says openly that if it were to come to missing his budget he would prefer to be over rather than under. "If I don't spend it I think I've cheated the community, rather than saved the taxpayer money," he explains.

Another major worry for Clarke comes with the tensions in the local area. Although he is certain that the "outside temperature" (as he calls it) is much lower than nine years ago, almost his most important role is to monitor the local mood. Problems can come in many forms: he has to counter the distrust that the death of Roach and the Monerville case have inflamed, while attempting to reassure the elderly in particular about the dangers of burglary and violent crime.

Two hours later the problem is illustrated graphically. An old lady has telephoned to report intruders. She is old, very frightened and has a heart condition. "They came right up to the window and stared in," she wails. "They said they'd be back. I'm all a flutter - do you think they will?"

"How many of them were there?" asks Bateman. "Four or five," she moans, glancing over her shoulder in the direction of their hurried retreat. The police look concerned. "And how old?" he continues. "About six or seven," she says, checking again. "Well, don't worry, madam. They won't be back." His tone has lost a fraction of its urgency. In an instant this incident has changed into a public relations exercise. Promising to return if needed, the police leave. The incident has taken half an hour and has involved six officers.

The most recent racial problem has come with the highly publicised desecration of local Jewish graves. Given the large ultra-orthodox Hasidic community, this instantly raised the spectre of the resurgence of the extreme right in the area (the National Front reached its zenith in Hackney in 1977). "My whole life is spent monitoring the temperature outside," says Clarke, adding with a hint of desperation: "I've constantly got to keep my finger on a hundred pulses."

And it is having to balance the concerns of the local community with the idea of cost effectiveness which presents some of the most awkward problems. According to Professor Jock Young, author of the police-critical Islington Crime Survey, the average beat policeman will catch a burglar only once every 20 years. It is clearly much cheaper to attempt to counter "street crime" (as Clarke calls burglary, mugging, and attacks against the person) by means other than uniformed bobbies.

The public, however, is reassured by the sight of the friendly local bobby and complains if there is none to be seen. In the Hackney area this is doubly expensive because, notwithstanding Clarke's assurance about the general goodwill of the community, it is deemed too dangerous for a policeman to operate on his own as a matter of routine, and the sight of a solitary officer in uniform is rare. As one local man with three convictions for violent crime put it: "Never run from one pig - his three mates are always waiting round the corner. That's when you get the pasting."

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