Met police sold £1bn of property to soften blow of budget cuts
Britain’s biggest police force, the Metropolitan police, has sold off almost £1bn-worth of London property over the past five years as it battles to make multi-million pound savings.
The figures, released as the Queen officially opened the new Met headquarters on Victoria Embankment in central London, reveal hundreds of flats, buildings, stations and offices have been sold by the force since 2012-13.
The Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, has said officers have been stretched following recent terror attacks along with a rise in violent crime.
The most lucrative deal was the sale of New Scotland Yard in 2016, which went for £370m to investors from Abu Dhabi for luxury flats.
Some 24 police stations have been shut down and sold, including Chelsea police station, bought for £40m in 2015.
Overall, 67 operational units were sold, as were 20 residential blocks and 84 residential units, according to figures released to the Press Association under freedom of information laws.
The sales have softened the blow of major cuts to the Met’s budget triggered by the coalition and Conservative governments’ decision to cut and then restrict police funding.
Scotland Yard has had to make £600m of savings since 2010 but was able to maintain frontline officers at the 31,000 level.
However, the force now says that it is under even greater pressure as it has another £400m in savings to find by 2020.
The figures show the 20 blocks of flats were sold for a total of £111.5m, with Kilmuir House in Belgravia fetching £45m in 2016.
The most expensive single residential property was a flat in Sailmakers Court, Fulham, which went for £1.4m in 2012.
While the government says it is no longer cutting the Met budget, it is not increasing it, meaning it has to absorb other costs which are rising.
Critics say protecting crucial police services by selling buildings may not help the Met in the long run, as it has now sold the best of what it had.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said more police stations may close and the Met is trying to find new ways to carry out its duties, saving money while minimising any damage to the service it provides.
Queen Elizabeth is directed by the Met police commissioner, Cressida Dick, at the official opening of the force’s new HQ on 13 July. Photograph: Jo Davidson/SHM/Rex/Shutterstock
The new HQ, which will host 600 staff, is smaller than the Scotland Yard building in nearby St James’s. One reason to move out of the former HQ, apart from raising money, was that it needed extensive refurbishment requiring a budget of tens of millions of pounds.
Responding to the findings, the Metropolitan police said the sales meant more resources were “available for effective and accessible policing” and that money would be invested in updating remaining buildings and improving IT services.
A spokeswoman said: “Selling property that does not meet the required standard to support our frontline policing teams results in more resources being available for effective and accessible policing, such as our network of dedicated ward officers.
“The money from sales and what would have been spent on keeping buildings running is also invested in servicing the changing way Londoners want to contact the police through digital channels, updating our remaining buildings and providing the best possible IT, so we can deliver a modern police service fit for the 21st century.
“The Metropolitan police service has a duty to provide the best value for Londoners and make sure all its resources are delivering the best possible policing services,” the spokeswoman added.
Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said he was pleased that a fund had been created “to go to good use” but questioned where the police would be without the money from the sale of buildings.
He added: “The government seems to be doing it on the cheap. Without this, we’d be relying on criminals’ money to fund the police.”