Funding cuts to hit local policing hardest

Local police services will take the biggest hit from Government cuts to the policing budget, new analysis from Cardiff University shows.

A comprehensive and authoritative academic report by Cardiff’s Universities Police Science Institute shows Government grant for local policing will fall by £1.36bn, or 14 per cent, over the four years to 2014-15.  The author, Dr Timothy Brain, former Chief Constable of Gloucestershire and ACPO lead on finance,  also questions claims by ministers that the cuts can be largely absorbed by ‘back office’ efficiency savings, with little impact on front line services.

Dr Brain’s paper, Police Funding (England & Wales) 2011, analyses the combined effect of last year’s Spending Review, the Police Settlement Grant and spending announcements by all 43 local police authorities. Overall, there will be a cash terms cut of £1.2bn from the  £13bn police budget by 2014-15. However, the report finds that centrally-controlled security and Private Finance Initiative (PFI) budgets are relatively well protected. Most of the impact is on the funding provided to police authorities to deliver local policing.

Dr Brain, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute, confirms earlier estimates that the number of police posts lost in England and Wales by 2014-15 will be in excess of 34,000 posts, effectively wiping out the gains in numbers under the last government. He points out that police authorities have been given little time to phase in the cuts before the start of the 2011-12 financial year.

Dr Brain said: “Ministers expect the brunt of such losses to fall in the so-called ‘back office’ but with as many as 16,000 police officer posts going, there is little prospect of the front line being unaffected. Police services and officers’ morale are both likely to suffer.

‘The growth in police officer numbers since 2004-5 has been principally to enable neighbourhood, or community, policing; it is likely that it will be in neighbourhood policing where the greatest impact will be felt’.

The report also questions the effect of the Home Office’s claim that 2.5million police hours can be saved through efficiencies. Dr Brain said: “Not all the efficiencies may work in the way intended. For example, ‘light touch inspection’ might mean less work for the Inspectorate, but not necessarily for the police forces themselves. Even if the efficiency savings forecast is accurate, it is little more than a dent in the overall cut in numbers. Ironically, the most efficient forces will be hardest hit, as they have least room to make further efficiencies.”

Dr Brain calls for clarification of the police funding system, which masks true accountability.  Presently involves the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Welsh Government and the local police authorities, and has 22 separate funding streams. He said: “If the Government is serious about a ‘Big Society’ and greater public involvement in local issues, it must unravel the complexity surrounding police finance. We need to see the funding from all sources in an intelligible format. At the moment, it is hard to say precisely who is responsible for the severe cuts we face.”  

The report is the first of a series of on-line briefings planned by the Universities Police Science Institute. These detailed reports will deal with contemporary policing and justice issues and are aimed at practitioners, policy-makers and academics with an interest in the field.