Financial pressures “undermining confidence in the police” states Public Affairs Committee

Funding for police forces is down by nearly a fifth since 2010-2011, while there are nearly a fifth fewer officers and staff currently on the books. Inevitably there are consequences and forces are under increasing strain. Police 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. As a result, public confidence in the police is declining and officers’ personal resilience is under pressure with this reduction in visibility.

In its latest report entitled ‘Financial Stability of Police Forces in England and Wales’, the Public Affairs Committee suggests that police forces are feeling the pressure of ‘cost shunting’. Violent crime and sexual offences have increased and forces are dealing with more incidents which are not crime-related, at the same time as having to cope with fewer front line staff. Cuts to other areas of public spending, such as health, are being passed on to policing.

Policing by consent relies on public confidence and, according to the Committee, this is being severely dented. Despite the pressures facing forces, it’s “disappointing” that the Budget did not address the financial sustainability of police forces, particularly so in relation to neighbourhood policing which has borne the brunt of the cuts.

Tough choices on policing priorities

At a time when funding is tight, the Home Office must make tough choices about its priorities for policing. The Committee states: “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 Committee continued: “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 at the same time 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.”

‘Thin blue line’ now wearing thinner

Meg Hillier MP

Meg Hillier MP

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier MP commented: “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. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside told us that the impact of austerity had been immense, causing the loss of force-wide resources such as robbery and street crime squads. In Devon and Cornwall, neighbourhood policing has been hit to the extent that the Police and Crime Commissioner believes ‘our communities do not feel safe’. Michael Barton, the chief constable of Durham, told us the public feels let down. Last week, Sara Thornton – chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council – added her voice to those concerned about what over-stretched forces can realistically be expected to do.”

Hillier continued: “In this context, it’s not surprising that officers’ personal resilience is under pressure, too, not least from serving as ‘first responders’ as cuts to other public services continue to bite. This cannot continue. Government must show leadership and get on with the job of fixing the flaws at the heart of its approach to policing. In particular, the Home Office must improve its understanding of the real-world demands on the police and use this information to inform its bid for funding from the Treasury. When it secures that funding, it must distribute it effectively. It’s wholly unacceptable that, more than three years after accepting the police funding formula needs to change, the Home Office has no firm plans to do this. If it is to convince the police and the public that it’s serious about addressing their concerns then it should set out a plan as swiftly as possible. The messages from communities and police forces across the UK are clear. The Government must act now.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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