The Cost of Policing Football Matches - Home Affairs Committee Contents


The cost of policing football matches



Background

1. The provision of policing at a football match, or any other commercial event such as a music concert is a "special police service".[1] Special Police Services are governed by section 25 of the Police Act 1996:

    The chief officer of police of a police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be determined by that authority.

2. In effect special police services are extra police officers provided for the purposes of security at commercial events. The event organiser must pay for this service at a price determined by the chief constable; if the cost is not met then the organiser can be denied a safety certificate and cannot hold the event. In 2008, ACPO made a submission to the Home Office for its Green Paper on the future of policing. In this submission it called for the introduction of "full-cost" policing. Full-cost policing would extend the definition of special police services beyond the "footprint" of the event and include so-called "consequential policing", that is policing which is provided beyond the event itself at train stations or town centres to deal with crowds arriving at and leaving a commercial event. Our inquiry investigated special police services by focusing on the cost of policing football matches, how this is calculated and how this cost is to be met.

3. On Tuesday 16 June we took oral evidence from Assistant Chief Constable Simon Thomas and Mr Derek Smith, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Leads on Football and Finance respectively; Bill Bush, Director, Public Policy and Communication with the Premier League, and Andy Williamson, Chief Operating Officer at the Football League; and Dave Whelan and Brenda Spencer, Chairman and Chief Executive of Wigan Athletic Football Club, and Graham Turner, Chairman of Hereford United Football Club. We have also received written evidence from a number of interested parties which is published with this Report. We thank everyone who gave evidence to us.

The Current Arrangements

4. Football clubs are currently only legally obliged to pay for the policing on their "footprint", usually inside the stadium and surrounding car parks; the provision of "consequential policing" outside a football match, for example at a railway station or in the city centre, is currently the responsibility of the police and is provided at their discretion and at a cost to them. Clubs do not have to pay for this "extra" service. This has led to a disparity between what the police estimate the total cost of policing a football match to be, and what the clubs currently pay. In the season 2007-08 it is estimated that the policing of 13 Premier League football clubs cost the police £3.2 million in consequential policing.[2] This difference must be met by the taxpayer. This disparity is the result of current case law and Home Office guidance over the charging for the policing of football matches; the result is that "some forces recovered less than half, some as much as two thirds of the costs of policing football".[3]

5. The debate over "full-cost" policing rests on the issue of "additionality", extra services that the police provide because of the football match. The police argue that:

    Policing full commercial events—and that includes football—is based on the premise that we buy in additional resource, in other words police on overtime, so that we maintain our core resources to police communities.[4]

Any police presence is "on top of the standard of normal policing"[5] at that time. The service they provide is over and above what the community would normally be paying for. The football match is the source of this extra expense, regardless of whether the police presence is on the club's "footprint" or not.

6. The clubs argue that the distinction is not as clear cut as that. They neither require nor request police presence away from their "footprint" and should not be liable for the cost of providing police elsewhere:

    Our clubs feel that they pay the full cost of deployment of the police which they require for policing in the ground and in the land immediately close to it which is wholly under the club's control for the purposes of organising the match … when fans are moving to and fro between town centres, transport intersections, hubs and the ground, they are there as citizens rather than as spectators.[6]

The Premier League also made it clear that "all our clubs believe that they meet the charges for the special police services which they request as legislation requires"[7] and that "football will contribute about £1 billion to the exchequer each year".[8] The clubs therefore pay for what the law mandates and pay taxes to finance any police "additionality". The running of their event does not depend on the presence of police in city centres and railway stations; therefore they should not be liable for paying for these.

7. Current case law and Home Office guidance supports this view and clubs are currently only charged the "full cost" of those officers deployed on their footprint.[9] However, recent high-profile disputes between football clubs and the police over the charges levied by the police have highlighted:

    A lack of clarity in recent years … the difficulties that we have had in terms of football have been around the fringes of what is clear, transparent and consistent about what relates to the total policing deployment and the chargeable element which comes from that.[10]

It is this lack of clarity over who is responsible for the provision of police services at a football match and similar events is that the source of the recent disputes between football clubs and police forces.

8. It is right that an increase in police costs which is attributable to the policing of a football match should be met by the clubs rather than the taxpayer. Clubs should continue to pay the total cost of policing on their "footprint". Equally, where it can be shown—using evidence which is available to the clubs—that the police are also incurring costs because of "consequential policing", this should also be met by the club. However, clubs should not have to meet the cost of "consequential" policing that is not a direct result of their activity. Any new arrangements must allow this distinction to be made and not merely be a blanket proposal.

Costs

9. It is impossible to provide "average" figures for the amount football clubs spend on policing annually as every club is different and requires different methods of policing. However, in absolute terms the figures are substantial. Wigan Athletic told us that in 2007-08 they paid "about £240,000"[11] for policing; while Hereford United paid £80,000.[12] In total football clubs paid "between "£12 and £15 million" to the police in the season 2007-08, in addition to the £1 billion they paid the exchequer in taxes. Derek Smith also told us that the "cost of policing in terms of the total revenue income of football was … about 0.6 to 0.7%".[13] This figure does not include the costs of stewarding at each game—which over the course of a season runs into many thousands of pounds—or the amount clubs have spent in recent years on CCTV and all-seater stadia, which all increase safety inside the grounds.

10. This annual outlay has made football a safe environment and "relatively trouble-free".[14] Home Office figures state that 72% of matches see a maximum of one arrest and there is an average of only 1.2 arrests per game.[15] Typical deployments of officers are significant; even at the smallest, lowest risk (Category "A") game, 35 officers will be deployed and 20 charged for.[16] Graham Turner told us that "we [Hereford] had two arrests last season"[17] and there is no trouble after their games.[18] While the police are motivated by the need to secure public safety, the question arises whether the police's response is proportionate to the risk at Hereford United and other, mostly lower league, clubs.

11. While we are of the opinion that clubs should pay the full cost of the policing which can be directly attributed to their match we also urge the police to recognise the amount of effort the clubs have expended to increase safety at the grounds and the change in atmosphere at football matches. We doubt the necessity of deploying up to 150 police officers on top of the hundreds of stewards[19] at an event which has on average 1.2 arrests. Unless there is specific intelligence of possible trouble which can be shared with the clubs, the police should consider reducing the deployment of officers and they should share intelligence with the clubs to better identify the policing needs and reduce them wherever possible.

How the Police calculate costs

12. While we are certain that clubs should contribute more towards the cost of policing their matches, we are concerned about the methods used by the police in calculating these costs. We were told that these methods are not as transparent or consistent as they could be. Wigan Athletic in the Greater Manchester Police area, Hereford United in the West Mercia Police area and Sheffield Wednesday in the South Yorkshire Police area have all said to us that changes in the amount charged for police at football matches have come about apparently at the whim of a chief constable.[20] Mr Turner suggested that the sudden demand for payment required by the police could be caused by a change in personnel at West Mercia Police rather than a change in policing requirements.[21]

13. The evidence we received from football clubs suggests that the costs of policing football matches are calculated not on a fairly standardised basis but according to personal interpretation—which may change from year to year—of the police officer in charge. For example, Sheffield Wednesday commented that they were "first charged four hours per officer, then five hours, then six hours per officer per game",[22] and Graham Turner told us that where previously they paid nothing, Hereford United were suddenly presented with a bill for policing. The number of spectators attending and the potential for trouble at the club's matches had not changed enormously, yet the police perception of the demands they faced had. We suggest that these variations can be attributed to the grey areas which currently exist in the case law and Home Office guidance which allow too much room for interpretation by individual chief constables.

14. We also heard that it is not clear how much negotiation the chief constable undertakes before deciding the cost to the clubs of policing their event. ACC Thomas assured us that "it [provision of policing] is agreed with the club and it has to be transparent because the club has to have some faith in the system,"[23] yet Dave Whelan said that:

    We are not allowed to say what category matches are, how many policemen he sends. That is nothing to do with the football club, it is entirely a police decision and we cannot even question that.[24]

And in written evidence to us, Scunthorpe United told us that:

    It is often very difficult, if not impossible to actually see and therefore question the intelligence used by police in determining the categorisation of a match and hence the cost.[25]

This is troubling, especially since the chief constable can withhold the provision of any and all special police services to an event, and effectively deny the organisers a safety certificate. This effectively gives him the power of veto over a football match going ahead. That the costs and charges of the service are decided without consultation is therefore extremely troubling and, "far too much reliance [is] placed upon the relationship between those controlling a football club and the specific Police Officers with whom they liaise".[26]

15. We are equally concerned that there seems to be no standardised, approved method to decide upon the policing and chargeable element of a football match. It is unacceptable that the charges levied on clubs can change seemingly at the whim of an individual and even what we thought would be standard arrangements such as the length of time officers spend on duty can differ from club to club.[27]

16. We note the definitive national guidance being drawn up by ACPO and hope that this brings a degree of uniformity into the provision of policing and forms the basis for negotiations between the clubs and the police over the clubs' liability for payment. That the cost can apparently be decided by one person without consultation and negotiation with the interested parties is unacceptable. We recommend that the proposed ACPO Guidelines be made public and form the basis for negotiation with the clubs over the chargeable element of police services and allow variables such as the length of time officers spend on duty to be standardised across the clubs. We further recommend that the police allow clubs a much greater say in the provision of policing. This must become a more collaborative process, involving an independent outside body if needs be.

Clubs in administration

17. A further issue is the behaviour of football clubs which enter administration. The Football League operates a "football creditor" rule which says that before a club can exit administration it must pay off its football creditors in full. Non-football creditors such as the police are classed as unsecured creditors and therefore typically receive a much lower proportion of their unpaid debt.[28] In recent years Leeds United, Bradford City and Leicester City have all exited from administration while paying the police and other non-football creditors a fraction of what they were owed.

18. We accept that there may be good reasons why the current insolvency rules for football clubs are in place,[29] but we cannot accept that a club entering administration must pay off transfer fees, perhaps running into millions of pounds, before settling a debt with the police force and community at large. The Football Association should take steps to prevent this from happening. In the context of football the sums which police forces are being advised to write off may be small, but to the community at large the damage is much greater and this harms the relationship between the clubs and the public.

19. While we do not recommend that the Football Association, Premier League and Football League amend the "football creditor rule", as it is right that clubs cannot renege on their debts to competitors by declaring administration, we would like them to take steps to prevent police forces being left out of pocket in the event of a club entering administration. For example, it may be possible for all clubs entering the Football League to pay a yearly bond as a condition of entry. This money should be used to help meet the costs incurred by the police and other non-football services when a club enters administration. A mismanaged club should not leave the community as a whole short-changed.

Conclusion

20. At its heart the disparity between what clubs are legally obliged to pay in policing costs and what the police estimate these costs to be stems from grey areas in the current legislation and Home Office guidance. It is not clear to what extent football clubs and other holders of commercial events are liable for policing away from their "footprint". This has led to a disparity between what the police the consider the full cost of policing the football match to be and what the clubs feel themselves liable to pay.

21. Elsewhere in this Report we have suggested practical arrangements that should be introduced to make the policing of football matches more equitable in terms of cost both to the clubs and the public. In particular we have recommended that the clubs pay the full cost of policing which can be attributed to them and the police review their arrangements for policing matches and the process by which these arrangements are decided. We hope these or similar arrangements will solve the problems of payment for all "special police services", not just football. However, it may be that the lack of clarity and consistency in the system at present prevents a mutually beneficial decision being found. If this is the case we also recommend that the Home Office consider providing legal clarification on the extent to which commercial events are responsible for policing beyond their footprint, if necessary through legislation.


1   Other examples of Special Police Services include the policing of music concerts, assistance for film-makers and the policing of film premieres, and country shows. Back

2   "Football 'should pay for police'" BBC News Online, 12 August 2008. Back

3   Q1 Back

4   Q21 Back

5   Q29 Back

6   Q34 Back

7   Q47 Back

8   Q49 Figures provided by Deloitte.  Back

9   Ev 17 Back

10   Q15 Back

11   Q71 Back

12   Q82 Back

13   Q21 Back

14   Q13 Back

15   Q13 Back

16   Ev 17 Back

17   Q78 Back

18   Q95 Back

19   Q35, Q37 Back

20   Q67 Back

21   Q93 Back

22   Ev 16 Back

23   Q8 Back

24   Q 101 Back

25   Ev 15  Back

26   Ev 16  Back

27   Q59 Back

28   Q56 Back

29   Q56 Back


 
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Prepared 19 July 2009