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Government

Fears over police funding

The Home Office lacks all the information it needs to know the impact of reductions in funding on police capability at local level, a committee of MPs fears.

According to the Public Accounts Committee, most police forces lack sufficient information on the current and future demands they face, which is essential for Government, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and the police to ensure forces have the right skills and resources and understand the impact of savings measures. There is limited information on the impact of cost reductions made by other government departments on the police’s workload (cost shunting). It is not clear how the structural reforms necessary to make expected further significant savings will be made within the devolved delivery model, the committee says in a report, Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales.

The need to make further savings may encourage forces to make greater use of outsourcing, but even given the devolved accountability system for policing, current oversight is inadequate, the PAC report says. “Some police forces have already outsourced specific functions, for example Lincolnshire Police have an arrangement with G4S to provide various back office functions. It is likely more forces will make use of outsourcing arrangements to meet future savings requirements, but the Department only has limited oversight within the accountability system of such arrangements. We are very concerned that we and government should be able to properly hold private companies to account for their performance, and we welcome the Department’s [Home Office] assurance that oversight arrangements will be examined in the new policing Bill due this year.”

Some background

The Home Office allocates grants to Police and Crime Commissioners (who decide how much goes to police forces and how much to other crime reduction initiatives); establishes an accountability framework to assure Parliament on the regularity, propriety and value for money of police spending; and intervenes if Chief Constables or PCCs fail.

Comment

Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said forces should not be setting budgets ‘piecemeal’, year by year, constantly looking over their shoulders for where the axe might next fall.

“The report confirms what we have said, that current government policing policy is based on wishful thinking, and not based on any real data or proper evidence for the direction being taken and the cuts being made.”

The federation for rank and file police officers says that it has been warning the current 43-force system is not sustainable with current funding pressures. Mr White added: “We need to stop burying our heads in the sand” and accept that the current force system is outdated and should be changed. Most of the immediate problems we are facing are of the government’s own making. The long term financial viability of our police forces is in doubt and the current structure and management of the service is simply not sustainable.”

Findings

According to the PAC, the Home Office’s hands-off approach to police forces limits its ability to ensure value for money. The committee recommends that the Home Office should set out how it proposes police forces make further significant savings via structural reforms, and assess the legal implications of changes and possible mergers, while having regard to local accountability.

The impact of cost reductions made by other Government departments on the police’s workload (cost shunting) is not known, the PAC says. The police’s main duties are to protect the public and prevent crime. But police officers respond to a wide range of incidents. In 2013-14 just over a fifth, 22pc of the 7.3 million emergency and priority incidents that police responded to were crime-related. Policing might become the “social service of first resort” outside office hours in areas such as mental health because other services were not available. The committee report says: “However, no data currently exists which show the extent to which police forces are filling gaps in services that should be provided by others.”

Pictured: Weston super Mare police station, no longer open to the public, as part of Avon and Somerset Police centralising their police stations. More in the November 2015 print issue of Professional Security magazine.

And meanwhile, the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee warned in a report “To Protect and Save” that unless the Met improves its commercial expertise, it risks a high-profile outsourcing failure similar to the G4S and Serco electronic tagging scandal. The report found:

While the Met is initially focusing on “back-office” services, the Commissioner says that it must review “all but core policing functions” to determine whether external contractors can provide services at better value.
Unsuccessful deals might not make the savings the Met needs, and could put its performance at risk.
The Met lacks commercial expertise – this must be addressed if it is to secure good deals over the lifetime of contracts.

The report came as 445 Met staff posts will transfer to a joint venture part-owned by French outsourcing giant Sopra Steria. In a contract with Cleveland Police, the same firm used zero-hours contracts. The Met needs to be up front about whether it will allow zero-hour contracts in its own outsourcing deals, the committee said.

John Biggs, Chair of the Budget and Performance Committee, said: “The funding challenge facing the Met is undoubtedly tough – but there is a real risk to the public if it signs a bad deal. The Met could find itself handcuffed to a poor contract or even worse if the deal goes wrong. In particular, the Met must ensure it has the business nous to find the right commercial partners and then manage contracts effectively to ensure Londoners’ money is spent wisely. The stakes are very high – no-one wants to see yet another high-profile outsourcing botch.”


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