The Home Office has been criticised by police leaders for repeatedly insisting that â€œfront lineâ€ police services will be saved from budget cuts, despite admitting that it cannot define the term.
The Home Office has admitted it does not know what the front line is. Photo: PA
The Home Secretary Theresa May and policing minister Nick Herbert have assured the public that â€œfrontline servicesâ€ will be protected in spite of budget cuts of 20 per cent.
But, in response to a Freedom of Information request, their department responded saying it could not define the term, adding: â€œThere is no formally agreed definitionâ€¦although these are terms in relatively common use across the police service.â€
The inability to define the front line was seized upon by rank and file leaders who said that ministers had been “reckless” to base their policies on a term that it cannot define.
Paul McKeever, the chair of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said: “It is extrardinary that the Home Office and Government have actually followed a policy for the last few months of reforming the police service through cuts by saying they will protect the front line when they, nor anyone else, can say what that is.
“Recently I’ve even heard the terms back office and middle office, but no one in policing knows what they mean. As far as I am aware it is terminology used in the banking world. But, like the phrase front line, they are phrases that have been coined by the Government.
“To have all your policing policies based on the phrase ‘protecting the front line’ without knowing what it is seems reckless. How can you protect something you cannot define?”
But despite their inability to define it, the Home Office has not been shy to use the phrase.
Theresa May has said previously that police forces should be able to cut their budget and cut crime without harming the front line.
In a speech emphasising that message earlier this month she repeatedly used the phrase. She said: â€œPolice leadership need to have the flexibility to manage their forces and protect the front line.â€
She said that chief officers should be â€œempowering your front line staffâ€. And she said that she expected a â€œreal genuine focus from the police on the frontline.â€
A report by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor has suggested that four out of ten officers could have their annual pay and bonuses cut by up to Â£4,000.
But his report recommends that officers who do front line duties could have their pay increased.
Delivering his report, Mr Winsor attempted to define what he meant by the front line, saying: â€œThe front line is partially visible and partially invisible.â€
He said it was not a term reserved for neighbourhood beat officers, but also included detectives, undercover officers and other officers who are â€œdoing very demanding jobs, but you do not see them wearing yellow jackets in the streets.â€
He added: â€œThe frontline also comprises officers who areâ€¦doing hard edge police work.â€
Despite his officeâ€™s written response to the contrary, Nick Herbert has repeatedly defined the term. He has said: â€œFront-line policing includes neighbourhood policing, response policing and criminal investigation.â€
A Home Office spokesman said that Her Majestyâ€™s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has been consulted in order to establish a definition of frontline police officers.
He added: â€œAlthough no fixed definition exists, frontline officers and staff are generally those directly involved in the public crime fighting face of the force. This includes neighbourhood policing, response policing and criminal investigation.
â€œMiddle office services include a variety of functions which provide direct support to the frontline, such as police training and criminal justice administration.
â€œBack office services are those which keep police forces running smoothly such as finance and human resources.â€