Funding for police forces is down by nearly a fifth since 2010–11 and there are nearly a fifth fewer officers and staff. Inevitably there are consequences and forces are under increasing strain. Forces cannot do everything and are prioritising their work by cutting back in some areas, such as neighbourhood policing meaning fewer officers on the street. Public confidence in the police is declining and officers’ personal resilience is under pressure with this reduction in visibility. Violent crime and sexual offences have increased and forces are dealing with more incidents which are not crime related, at the same time as coping with fewer frontline staff. Forces are feeling the pressure of ‘cost shunting’ as cuts to other areas of public spending, such as health, are passed onto policing because it is so often the first line of response. Policing by consent relies on public confidence and this is being severely dented. Despite the pressures facing forces, it is disappointing that the Budget did not address the financial sustainability of police forces, particularly in relation to neighbourhood policing which has borne the brunt of cuts.
At a time when funding is tight, the Department must make tough choices about its priorities for policing. But it is not showing strategic leadership of the policing system and has acted too slowly in response to known financial sustainability problems. It does not have a national picture of demand for police services and so has a limited understanding of what resources forces need. The Department’s formula for distributing funds has long been acknowledged as unfit for purpose, as this Committee reported in 2015, but has still not been updated. In the absence of a proper formula, central government funding to local forces has been subject to crude cuts across the board, which do nothing to take account of the complexities of local circumstances. Local taxpayers are paying more to fund police services, compensating for the 30% central government cuts, while seeing less local policing.
We last looked at the sustainability of police forces in 2015 and it is depressing that the Government still has a poor understanding of the on the ground reality of its funding regime.
Published: 7 November 2018