Last Friday, on a trip to Manchester and Salford to view the impact of the recent disturbances, Cameron told reporter Gordon Burns on the BBC regional news programme, Northwest Tonight: "Nationwide, there are some 7,000 officers in back office jobs like IT and HR. That isn't right, so we do need to make changes so we can have the visible policing we all want to see".
The PM added: "There are police officers in back office jobs in IT, in HR, in other things that should be done by civilians, so we get the police on the front line." He stated the Government's desire to "put more into the teeth, if you like, and less into the tail".
Commentators have observed that there could be significant problems replacing HR police officers with civilians, as the PM suggests. Martin Tiplady (pictured), MD at Chameleon People Services and former HR director of the Metropolitan Police, told HR magazine: “The bottom line is – there will always be a significant requirement for cops in HR."
Tiplady explained that just as soldiers with front-line experience are needed to train army recruits, so police recruits need to be trained and assessed by experienced police officers. The two-year probation period undergone by police recruits involves reaching milestones that only experienced officers are able to assess and ascertain. Tiplady said: "When I was in the Met, cops in HR roles were there of necessity."
Ian Hanson, chairman-elect of the Greater Manchester branch of the Police Federation, said, "There is no more slack to cut". He added: "The prime minister wants to come with me into any police station in Greater Manchester and see if there is any slack to cut. The first duty of any government is to preserve the safety of its citizens and this government is failing. We will not be able to continue if these 20% cuts go through. The Government has got to re-think and re-think urgently – it has got to listen to the public".
The 10 Downing Street press office has been reluctant to give a specific response to HR magazine’s questions regarding the role of HR within UK police forces and has been unable to confirm whether the prime minister has an adequate understanding of police HR structure and operation. Press officer Mohammed Hussein told HR magazine: "HR structures in the police are for the Home Office". His colleague Derek Smith told us: "It is up to the relevant organisations" and "it is not for us or the PM to decide on budgets".
With regard to whether or not the prime minister understands policing HR, Smith said: "As you would expect, the prime minister has views like everyone else does." Smith added that "the prime minister has secretaries of state that talk to him daily – and police commissioners".
"The prime minister listens to the heads of these services," Smith stated. "It is a difficult time, not just in policing – there is a big deficit to tackle."
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) was reluctant to comment officially on the matter.
Katie Ellison of the Department for Work & Pensions told HR magazine: "HR is greatly valued as an important function which supports delivery of the Government’s agenda. It is part way through an ambitious programme of change. It is pursuing greater efficiency through simplification, reduced duplication and greater consistency of approach across all departments."