PAC criticises “hands-off” approach to police cuts

18 Sep 15

There has been a “significant failure” by the Home Office to provide police forces with the support they need to maintain services amid budget cuts, the Public Accounts Committee has warned today.

In a report examining the financial sustainability of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, MPs said the department’s “hands-off” approach limited its ability to ensure value for money.

Central government funding for police forces was cut by 25% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2015/16, committee chair Meg Hillier highlighted, and further reductions were likely following November’s Spending Review.

The committee is calling on the Home Office to set out how it proposes police forces can make further significant savings through structural reforms, while also assessing the legal implications of changes including possible mergers.

“Neither the Home Office nor local forces really understand the impact of cuts to local policing,” Hillier highlighted.

“Too often cuts to services lead to ‘cost shunting’ with the police acting as the default support provider. There’s little understanding in the Home Office and in many forces of local demands.”

The report called on the Home Office to ensure police forces collect data that allows it to identify of funding reductions, including cost savings made elsewhere in government. Chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor should identify the scope for joint inspections of services in those areas where cuts may impact on the police.

MPs also concluded that the funding formula for police forces, who receive resources through police and crime commissioners, was ineffective and had been subverted by the decision to apply an equal percentage funding reduction to all areas.

The government has begun a consultation on possible changes, and Hillier called for this to take account of the demand for police services, the scope for savings, local circumstances, and the levels of reserves.

“Devising a new funding formula sensitive to the realities faced by different forces must be a priority for the Home Office,” she added.

“The recommendations put forward by the committee in this report are intended to address what must be seen as a significant failure by the Home Office to provide commissioners and senior officers with the tools they need to run their forces.”

Hillier also said there was inadequate scrutiny of the outsourcing of services from some police services to private companies. It was therefore not possible to determine whether taxpayers are getting value for money under such arrangements.

“At a time of ongoing uncertainty over future funding, it is sobering to think the people tasked with making decisions about policing priorities might lack the skills and information to do their jobs effectively,” she added.

Responding to the report, policing minister Mike Penning said that over the last five years, frontline policing services had been protected while public confidence in the police has gone up and crime has fallen by more than a quarter, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

"However, if we want policing in this country to be the best it can be, then we must reform further, and that includes putting police funding on a long-term, sustainable footing,” he added.

“That is why we have consulted on plans to reform the allocation of central government funding to police forces in England and Wales, ensuring it is fair, robust and transparent. We are currently considering the responses. The government will consider the Public Accounts Committee’s report and respond to it formally in due course.”

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