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Beneath Diane Abbott’s police funding gaffes, Labour’s numbers make sense

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott may have misspoken several times during her “car crash” tour of broadcasting studios on Wednesday morning to launch Labour’s campaign pledge to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers, but that doesn’t mean that the underlying figures she quoted don’t add up.

The worst of what the Tories seized on as “Diane’s morning of chaos” came during an LBC interview when she initially referred to the extra 10,000 officers costing £300,000 in a full year instead of £300m.

Abbott corrected herself to say it would mean £80m a year. But it was only when the LBC presenter, Nick Ferrari, pointed out that that would mean paying the 10,000 officers only £8,000 a year each that she recalled the actual figures, which add up to nearly £800m over four years.

Diane Abbott’s error-filled LBC interview on police funding – video

The detailed figures published by the Labour party do show that the pledge has been costed and could be funded by reversing the cuts in capital gains tax rates announced by George Osborne in April 2016.

Labour’s figures show that in 2017-18 their police recruitment drive would cost £64.3m, £139.1m in 2018-19, £217.2m in 2019-20 and 298.8m in 2020-21, making a total of £771m or nearly £800m over the life of the next parliament.

The Tory claim that Labour has already promised to spend the money saved by reversing the capital gains tax cuts doesn’t really stand up.

Page 85 of the Treasury’s 2016 budget red book clearly shows that over five years, reversing the cuts would yield £2.745bn. The higher rate of CGT was cut from 28% to 20%, while the basic rate was reduced from 18% rate to 10%

Tax receipts from reversing the cuts would be more than enough to fund the £771m cost of the extra police officers and still leave £2bn to fund Labour’s aspirations on arts, welfare and schools.

What of the promise to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers? It is true that police numbers have fallen from a peak of 143,770 officers in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016, but it is debatable whether there is a direct link between the number of officers and crime levels.

Officer numbers rose sharply in the 1990s and 2000s after a political auction that started between Tony Blair and John Major over who could promise voters the largest number of extra officers. But this was against the background of the longest fall in crime levels since the second world war.

This rise in police numbers was reversed in 2010 by the incoming home secretary Theresa May in that year’s austerity budget, which saw an 18% cut in police funding. But while the Police Federation predicted an immediate “Christmas for criminals”, it did not materialise and crime went on falling.

There is now serious concern about an upturn in gun and knife crime in London. But while the 40%-plus increase in those crimes recorded in Metropolitan police statistics sounds chilling, last week’s crime figures show that that the upsurge is not being repeated across England and Wales on the same scale. The average rise across the two countries is more like 13-14% – and much of is accounted for by the capital’s increase. Greater Manchester, for example, has not seen any increase in knife crime in the last year, according to last week’s crime figures.

It is also important to put the upturn in gun and knife crime in context. In 2004, gun crime stood at 24,094 incidents a year. The most recent figures, causing all the alarm, show that the number of offences involving firearms increased by 13% to 5,864 in 2016 compared with 5,176 incidents in 2015. It is a worrying increase, but nothing like the levels seen a decade ago.

The Office for National Statistics says that crime overall is stable in England and Wales, although there is a small increase in some types of high-harm violent crime, particularly in London. More armed police officers are already being recruited.

Although Blair oncepromised to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, this was swiftly reduced to simply promising “more police officers”. Some would argue it would be more effective for Labour to promise to recruit an extra 10,000 teachers or 10,000 doctors than an extra 10,000 police officers, whose impact would be, at the very least, debatable.