Met Police Recruitment Freeze Lifted

London Mayor Boris Johnson lifted a recruitment freeze at Scotland Yard today amid difficult questions over the force's financial future.

The Tory politician said an extra £42 million will mean 32,510 full time officers will be employed by May 2012.

He said the force is bucking a trend seen across England and Wales as chief constables cut numbers and slash costs to save cash.

But the news means only a handful of posts will be up for grabs as the latest figures showed there were 32,481 officers policing the capital.

Police projections also revealed the number of officers is likely to fall by April 2013 to 31,913 and 31,800 the following year.

Mr Johnson revealed the move at City Hall as members of the London Assembly met for a marathon six-hour meeting to debate the budget.

He said: "I believe we can go further in bearing down on crime so in my budget I am proposing to increase funding for the Met by £42 million.

"This investment means that as of next week we are starting up recruitment again for the Met in order to reach a target of 32,510 full time warranted police officers.

"By the end of my first term of office London will have significantly more police officers that I inherited in 2008."

Senior officers across England and Wales will be watching developments in London carefully as the Tory-run administration is a significant bellwether.

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse will assume control of a new office, the Mayor's Office of Police and Crime, in place of the Metropolitan Police Authority by October 1.

He will effectively become the country's first police and crime commissioner, with elections expected to take place for other forces in May 2012.

Senior officers have been battling to save hundreds of millions of pounds from the Met's £3.6 billion budget as Government ministers demand savings.

Mr Johnson said fears of a recession-fuelled crimewave had not materialised and praised the "excellent stewardship" of Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson.

He said teams of officers who patrol buses, trains and Tubes would be expanded and more officers would be put in schools.

The mayor said safer neighbourhood teams will not be broken up but signalled that low crime areas could see resources moved to trouble hotspots.

Last month it emerged that the number of sergeants responsible for the political ward-based teams will be cut by around 100.

Mr Johnson said: "We are protecting safer neighbourhood teams and the ward-based system that has proved so successful and so popular.

"By streamlining the management of some smaller and quieter wards performance will be improved."

He added: "At a time when police forces around England are reducing in size we are going in the opposite direction."

The announcement was met with outspoken criticism from Mr Johnson's political opponents who have repeatedly focused on his record on fighting crime.

Labour member John Biggs, chair of the budget committee, said there appeared to be "more severe cuts from next year onwards".

He pointed out the cuts would bite after the mayoral election, due to take place on May 3, and the London Olympic Games next year.

Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon accused him of "playing with smoke and mirrors" by claiming police numbers are going up.

Ken Livingstone, who will stand for mayor again next year, said Mr Johnson is "trying to obscure real cuts to police funding".

Home Office minister Nick Herbert said: "In the week when shrill voices were claiming that spending reductions would damage policing, Boris has spectacularly proved them wrong.

"Far from the doom-mongering predictions of cuts in frontline policing, the biggest force in the country, providing a quarter of all our police officers, is protecting safer neighbourhood teams and lifting the freeze on recruitment."

Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Peter Smyth said he "applauds the hard work" that has gone into keeping numbers as high as possible.

He said: "Over the past 14 months the Met has lost over 1,000 officers through natural wastage, so Mr Johnson's announcement that recruitment is to start again is excellent news.

"A significant fall in police numbers would have put at risk the reductions in crime which have been achieved in recent years, left a question mark over the security of the London Olympics and increased the threat from terrorists."