The Home Affairs Select Committee reported today on police finances. There’s not much new in here, to be honest. But let me save you the trouble of reading it with some headline figures:
- Total cash grants from central government to the police is falling from just under £10bn this year (2010/11) to around £8.5bn in 2014/2015 in cash terms. That will probably be about a 20% real terms cut.
- At least 80% of police expenditure is tied up in workforce costs (salaries and pensions). Jobs will definitely go.
- As of 30 September 2010, there were 142,363 police officers, 16,376 police community support officers, and 78,120 other police staff (94,496 total staff).
- We don’t yet know much about the job-losses. The Police Federation estimate at least 20,000 officers will go, the Association of Police Authorities say 11,000 officers and 14,000 police staff, and Ed Balls (Shadow Home Secretary at the time of the enquiry) estimated around 17,000 officers and 21,000 staff.
- It’s genuinely almost impossible to dismiss police officers, which helps to explain why most think the burden of cuts will fall disproportionately on police staff (though there are also political reasons for this). Police officer numbers will fall but largely through ‘natural wastage’ when officers retire or leave.
Central government grants will fall by roughly the same amount (20% real terms) for all of England and Wales’ 43 police forces. However, because police forces also receive funding from council tax, total cuts suffered by different forces will vary. Local councils can choose to vary the police element of local council tax depending on local political priorities. And, indeed, even if all councils decide to freeze council tax (as the Coalition government has urged), there will still be variation in levels of pain. This is because police forces vary in the extent to which they depend on central government grants. Surrey Police Authority, for example, receives 52% of funding from central government and the rest from council tax, whereas Northumbria receives over 80% from the central grants. Forces who depend on central government grants most (typically in the poorest areas) will be the hardest hit. My estimates suggest that richer areas supported by a strong council tax base may see real terms cuts of just 12% while others endure the full real-term budget reductions of 20%. More bad news for those worried about fairness…
I’m very sympathetic to police officers and staff who are going to have to cope with the practical and emotional difficulties that accompany this degree of change. But I’m also dying to dig into what’s really going to happen as a result of cuts in police funding. What activities will stop? Which workers will be protected? Will forces act in a similar way or will there be a wide variety of responses?
My suspicion is that we’ll see all sorts of barmy decisions being made. I say this for two reasons. First, when choosing what cuts to make police forces don’t have freedom to do what they think will deliver the best service to the public. Police terms of service will result in chief constables having to disproportionately fire police staff, and no doubt back-fill essential posts with police officers. I’ve already heard many examples of frontline officers being shifted to roles they frankly don’t have the skills or inclination to perform well – and that certainly don’t maintain ‘frontline presence’. Second, these cuts are phased badly for me. As the Select Committee rightly points out, these cuts are frontloaded and this carries risks, particularly for 2012. That is the year of the Olympics and the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners but it also sees the deepest cuts.
I’m currently trying to secure some funding so I can really dig into what’s happening on the ground. Watch this space…