Police rise outweighed by costs

4 Jan 01
Police authorities are warning of a tight year ahead despite the seemingly generous 10% funding increase announced in November

05 January 2001

Police authorities are warning of a tight year ahead despite the seemingly generous 10% funding increase announced in November.

Home Secretary Jack Straw described the 10.1% cash increase for 2001/02 as 'one of the most comprehensive settlements that police forces have ever received'. Police authority leaders initially welcomed the 'significant additional investment' as 'good news for local communities'.

But closer analysis of the figures has tempered police authorities' enthusiasm. The headline increase of 10.1% is bolstered by a 140% increase in special police grants, ring-fenced for centrally specified initiatives, including the crime-fighting fund and the rural policing fund. Local budgets are set to increase by a more modest 5% on average.

Taking account of pay and general inflation (3%), pensions (1.2%), capital financing costs (0.3%) and the national crime fighting agency levies (1.1%), police forces face increased costs of 5.6% just to keep their heads above water. Even compared with the average increase of 5.1%, this will leave many authorities with significant shortfalls before they attempt to fund local initiatives.

Robin Wilkinson, policy officer with the Association of Police Authorities, said there were particular concerns about the lack of flexibility for authorities. 'The scope to invest in new services locally just isn't there,' he said.
Lancashire is a good example. According to director of corporate services, David Brindle, the police authority's lower than average increase of 4.2% will just about allow it to 'stand still', covering the increased costs of pay and pensions. But it has a list of local initiatives it is keen to get off the ground. Boosting spending on forensic science and increasing the staffing levels in its communications rooms are high priorities.

The authority has already had to scale down its spending plans from £3.5m to £2.5m. If these new initiatives are to go ahead, they will have to be funded from savings.
This is where the lack of flexibility becomes apparent. Police authorities spend about 70% of their budgets on the pay and pensions of uniformed officers. In the past, authorities have often found funding for new projects by not replacing officers.This is now off-limits.

Not only is cutting police officer numbers politically unpopular, but maintaining the existing establishment is a condition if authorities want to qualify for cash from the crime fighting fund, which aims to boost police numbers by 9,000 over the next three years.

In effect, authorities have to find savings from just one-third of their budgets, which have already been through the efficiency mill in recent years. According to Brindle, Lancashire faces a 'difficult year financially'.

It is a situation replicated around the country and it could force authorities to dig into reserves or fall back on inflation-busting rises in council tax precepts.


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