Government needs to act now on police funding

Merseyside / November 07

The Government needs to act now on police funding – that’s the stark message sent out by a Commons Committee in a damning report on the financial sustainability of the police service released today.

The report, released by the Public Accounts Committee, comes after an oral evidence session at which Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy was among the witnesses who spoke of the “immense” impact of cuts on police forces across England and Wales. The Commissioner used her appearance at the hearing in October to stress the very real impact having fewer police offers is having on ordinary people and argue for more funding.

Her concerns have now been echoed by the Committee who have used the report to highlight that public confidence in the police has been “severely dented” as force’s struggle to prioritise what work should be delivered, while officers’ personal resilience is being effected. Crime, including violent and sexual offences, have increased, forces are dealing with more incidents which are not crime and forces have fewer frontline staff to respond.

The report also emphasises that “forces cannot do everything” and are being forced to ‘cost shunt’ as they pick up responsibility from other areas of public spending. This all means some vital services have been cut back, including neighbourhood policing.

The Commons Committee is now urging the Home Office to improve its understanding of the real-world demands on the police service and urgently review and replace the existing police funding formula. MPs list five clear recommendations, including asking the Home Office to develop a better system for understanding the strain placed on the organisation by incidents which are not crime-related issues, such as mental health crisis.

The assessment is the third in three months to be released by Government advisory bodies urging ministers to take action on police funding.

Jane said: “How much more evidence is needed for the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary to take action? The National Audit Office, the Home Affairs Select Committee and now the Public Accounts Committee have all released damning reports on the dire state of funding for our police service and yet still we see no light at the end of the tunnel, no promise of new money. These bodies exist to advise the Government, yet it seems they simply do not want to listen.

“The Chancellor paid lip service to recognising the pressure the police are under when he delivered the budget statement last week, but he has done absolutely nothing to support our most important public service. Instead he passed the buck to the Home Secretary, who again failed to make any concrete promises when speaking to Police Chiefs and PCCs last week. There are still no signs that ministers really understand the dire financial state the police service is now in.

“The weight of evidence detailing this perilous financial position is now immense. Despite the Prime Minister’s empty words, austerity is certainly not coming to an end for our police service. The Commons Committee are right to recognise that the message from our communities and police forces is clear – the Government must act now.”

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier MP said: "The 'thin blue line' is wearing thinner with potentially dire consequences for public safety. Public confidence and trust that the police will respond is breaking down.

“Funding reductions of nearly a fifth have placed severe strain on police forces, which have in turn been forced to cut back. The results are stark.”

She added: “This cannot continue. Government must show leadership and get on with fixing the flaws at the heart of its approach to policing."

The Commissioner appeared at the evidence session alongside the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary Michael Barton, the Vice President of the Police Superintendents’ Association Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Alison Hernandez.

The hearing follows on the from the recent publication of a Home Affairs Committee report which warned that the police were at risk of becoming “irrelevant” and a National Audit Office report highlighting the lack of a long term funding plan for policing and significant gaps in the Home Office’s understanding of the complex demands on police services.

The report confirmed that Merseyside Police is the third worst hit force across England and Wales, having had its total funding reduced by 23% since 2010 - more than double the cuts imposed on other forces, such as Surrey which has only seen an 11% decrease.

See the full report here.