More than 20,000 new police officers have been hired in England and Wales – meeting a Conservative manifesto pledge – but Britain’s biggest police force missed its individual target.
According to provisional Home Office figures, a total of 20,951 extra recruits joined police forces in the past three years, in the wake of a Conservative election manifesto commitment to have 20,000 additional officers in post by March 2023.
Seven police forces reported provisional figures that are at least 20% over their recruitment target.
Opponents previously claimed the Government was lagging behind its promise to replace thousands of jobs cut during austerity measures.
The figures suggest the target was reached only after recruitment was ramped up in the weeks just before the deadline.
Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley told MPs of his disappointment at missing the target, indicating the force’s current poor reputation was hampering recruitment.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the figures, saying the Government had “delivered” on its promise while Home Secretary Suella Braverman described it as a “historic moment for our country.”
But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Conservatives of “taking the country for fools.”
The Police Federation, which represents more than 130,000 rank-and-file officers, said that 23,000 police staff jobs had also been cut during austerity and the impression of a healthily staffed service was misleading.
Both Ms Cooper and the Federation said that per head of population there are fewer police officers now than there were in 2010.
But Ms Braverman denied policing was the “failure of austerity”, instead telling reporters the recruitment figures were a “success”.
The sharp jump in headcount in the weeks leading up to the March 31 deadline represented the “largest month-on-month increase” since the recruitment programme began, the Home Office said.
“The majority of the increase over the latest quarter was seen in the month of March,” it added.
Concerns have been raised about the quality of vetting procedures and the risk of rogue officers infiltrating the ranks amid the recruitment campaign.
Former chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, previously warned the “sheer magnitude and speed” of the programme “inevitably carries risks”, adding that there is a “heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited”.
Gavin Stephens, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said fewer than two in 10 candidates make it through “rigorous” selection procedures and said the drive was “four years of very detailed and concerted hard work and effort”.
The Home Office expected to spend £3.6 billion on the recruitment campaign by March, with a total cost of £18.5 billion over the next 10 years, according to Whitehall’s spending watchdog.
In June, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned the surge in additional officers joining police forces would “exacerbate pressure” on a criminal justice system which is “already under strain” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
It also said hiring police community support officers (PCSOs), special constables or police staff to fill the roles could lead to vacancies elsewhere in the service.