Boris Johnson’s pledge to boost police numbers by 20,000 in three years “may not be the most effective way of spending on policing”, the chief inspector of constabulary has said.
Sir Thomas Winsor welcomed the Tory leadership frontrunner’s proposal but said it was “simple” and may not solve all the problems faced by forces.
Mr Johnson has vowed to swell the police service to more than 140,000 officers by mid-2022 if he wins the race for Number 10.
Police officer numbers in England and Wales have dropped by more than 20,000 since 2009 with Home Office figures showing a reduction from 144,353 to 122,395 in 2018.
The former Cabinet minister said the £1.1 billion move, a similar pledge to that made by former candidate Sajid Javid, would have a particular focus on rural areas that have seen the biggest reductions in police funding in recent years.
Sir Thomas, when asked by reporters whether he welcomed the pledge, said: “Yes. High risk, high harm crimes are on the increase. Street violence is a very significant problem.
“Police are having to cope with new patterns of crime and complexity.”
But asked if it was too simplistic a proposal, he said: “It’s certainly simple but it may not be the most effective way of spending on policing.
“I’m not for a moment saying we don’t need more cops and police staff.
“I’m sure Boris Johnson doesn’t expect people to believe there will be 20,000 police officers on the streets by Christmas.”
Sir Thomas said an average of £1.1 billion would be needed to cover the cost of hiring that number of officers but that was just the start of the funding required.
“You can’t recruit them all that quickly and they take 18 months to two years to train,” he explained.
Officers become “steadily more expensive” as they gain seniority and learn more skills so would expect annual salary increases, he said, adding: “It is an increasing cost every year.
“He is talking about quite a significant financial contribution.
“Police don’t just need a lot more people. Undoubtedly they do need more people.
“They need to be recruited, trained, supervised and led in the most effective and efficient way.
“You have to invest to be more efficient and that will cost more money. Not all of that money should be spent on hiring people.
“Some of that money should be spent on technology.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it was difficult to believe Mr Johnson’s campaign promise given his voting record.
“Despite the repeated warnings from the police and the public, the Government cuts to police numbers have undermined their ability to tackle rising violent crime,” she said.
“You simply can’t keep people safe on the cheap.
“It’s difficult now to believe Boris Johnson’s campaign promise to restore the cuts to police numbers when he has repeatedly voted for them as an MP.
“The Tories can’t be trusted on police numbers, whoever their leader is.
“Labour will recruit thousands of new police officers to fight the rising tide of serious crime.”
Mr Johnson said the funds would come from the £26 billion “headroom” reserves set aside by Chancellor Philip Hammond.
The ex-mayor of London, who visited the Thames Valley Police training centre near Reading, Berkshire, on Wednesday, said: “What we are saying is that we are going to use some of the existing headroom, quite a small amount, about £1.1 billion, to put more police officers out on the street and I think that is what the public want.”
Pressed on whether he had already pledged the headroom funds for other initiatives, Mr Johnson said: “On the contrary, we have been positively frugal by comparison with a certain other campaign that I could mention.
“We are still well within the £26 billion that the Chancellor squirrelled away quite prudently, the money is going on education, a little bit on broadband – and that is already allocated – and on policing as well.”
Mr Hammond has publicly warned Mr Johnson and his rival for Downing Street, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that a no-deal Brexit would mean the reserve funding would need to be used to deal with the aftermath of withdrawal, and would not be available for spending pledges.
Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have said they would be prepared to exit the EU without a deal on October 31 if they could not get an improved agreement with Brussels.
Ahead of her last visit to Scotland as Prime Minister on Thursday, Mrs May is expected to say she is confident her successor at Number 10 will continue work to strengthen the relationship between the four nations of the United Kingdom.