NAO: Home Office failing to monitor impact of police funding cuts

4 Jun 15

Auditors have criticised the Home Office for not monitoring closely enough the impact of cuts on the financial sustainability of police forces and have urged it to become better informed about which forces are providing value for money.

In an examination of police finances, the National Audit Office concluded that forces in England and Wales had to deal with cuts of between 12% and 23% between 2010/11 and 2015/16.

However, it said that the Home Office was not clear about the impact funding reductions had on forces. It highlighted that the department did not have good enough information to work out by how much it can reduce funding without degrading services, or when it may need to support individual forces.

Although the sector itself is currently working to identify information which could give early warning of a force at financial risk, the department has insufficient information to identify signs of the sector being unable to deliver services. There were also not clear links between financial reductions and service pressures, and limited data on police productivity.

The Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales report also highlighted that the 43 forces were likely to see further reductions in funding, as the Home Office’s budget was not set to be protected.

Each will therefore need to transform their services to meet the financial challenge and address the changing nature of crime.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said that although police forces had successfully reduced costs so far, they would need a thorough understanding of demand or the factors that bear on their costs to transform services intelligently.

“The Home Office also needs to be better informed to discharge its responsibilities,” he added.

“It needs to work with HMIC, the College of Policing and forces to gain a clearer understanding of the health of the service, particularly around demand and on when forces may be at risk of failing to meet the needs of local communities.”

Among the reforms highlighted in the report were changes to the workforce mix to improve engagement with the public and to increase the use of digital and information technology in policing. The Home Office also expects forces to manage current and future funding reductions increasing collaboration with other forces and service providers, such as other emergency services or the private sector.

Responding to the report, policing minister Mike Penning highlighted that crime was down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

“There is no question that the police still have the resources to do their important work. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has made clear that the police are successfully meeting the challenge of balancing their books while protecting the frontline and delivering reductions in crime.

“The government has committed to a fundamental review of the police funding formula to ensure that allocations to local forces are fair and appropriate. We will consult police forces fully in due course.”

CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said the report had focused on how forces and police and crime commissioners were addressing funding cuts while dealing with an increase in service demand.

“Using CIPFA’s data, the NAO has given careful consideration to the value of financial reserves during this time of increasing uncertainty around funding. CIPFA has long pointed out the need for reserves to fund the transformation of future services and unforeseen emergencies rather than using them to offset gaps in funding. And it is clearly imperative that PCCs must have a robust approach to reserves with a clear strategy for their use over the medium term. The data demonstrates that while reserves have risen, by far the largest part of them are earmarked for those very purposes.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents chief constables and senior officers, said forces have risen to the challenge of austerity, making £2.53bn worth of savings and cutting staff numbers by 36,672.

“We have kept up a good service to the public but, with diminished resources and a major shift in demand, chief constables have had to make tough decisions about which issues are a priority for their force,’ NPCC vice chair Martin Hewitt said.

“Only 22% of incoming calls to the police are about crime, but the resource implication of calls will differ dramatically dependent on the seriousness and type of offence. Substantial demand comes from public protection issues, such as management of sex offenders and reports of missing people, as well as reallocating resources to deal with a huge increase in reports of child abuse, counter-terrorism issues and cyber-crime.”

It was unrealistic to think that further cuts can be absorbed with no significant impact on the service, he added. “Many forces are having to use their financial reserves – usually set aside for development, unforeseen circumstances and major incidents – to cushion the impact of budget reductions.”

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