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Police forces have risen to the financial challenge, cutting their spending while largely maintaining the service they provide the public; but HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has some concerns about how long this will last, as there are gaps in one force’s plans, and most need to transform their efficiency in preparation for future spending reviews, a report published on July 2 has found.
Over the last year, forces have reduced their spending while largely maintaining the service to the public. HMIC found that forces are on track to balance their budgets: they planned to reduce their spending by £749m by April 2012, largely through a reduction in the workforce of 17,600 (over half of the total workforce reductions they plan to make by March 2015). Crime is continuing to fall – down by 3pc (between 2010 and 2011). Victim satisfaction is also up from 83.4pc to 83.9pc, and the police response to anti-social behaviour has improved. And although HMIC found that many forces have changed the way they deliver some policing locally (for instance, there are now 2,300 more neighbourhood officers, and 5,200 fewer response officers, contributing to a 5,500 fall in the number of officers in roles that are visible and available to the public), the survey of members of the public conducted for this review indicated that the majority of respondents noticed no change in how often they saw the police.
Forces need to save £2.4bn by the end of the current spending review period (March 2015). HMIC found that forces have plans in place to save £2.1bn of this. £233m of the £302m outstanding gap is accounted for by the Metropolitan Police (Met).
Forces plan to achieve the majority of these savings by reducing their workforce, However, HMIC found that most forces plan to do this while protecting – although not preserving – the number of officers and staff in frontline roles:
Between March 2010 and March 2015, forces plan to cut the frontline total workforce (officers and staff) by 6pc (8,100), and non-frontline functions by 33pc (20,300) – although these percentages masks variation between forces, with one cutting by as much as 19pc, and another planning a 9pc increase. As a result of these changes, the proportion of total workforce on the front line will increase from two-thirds in March 2010 to nearly three-quarters in March 2015.
Looking specifically at police officer numbers and proportions: forces plan to reduce the number of frontline officers by 6pc (5,800) and non–front line officers by 42pc (7,600). As a result, by 2015 between 81pc and 95pc of officers (depending on the force) will be in frontline roles
(The figures above are for March 2015 compared with March 2010 and exclude MPS and Cheshire as they are yet to produce their plans for year 3 and year 4.)
HMIC has found that, while the operating model of British policing is unaltered, the nature of the frontline is changing. Forces are planning to varying degrees to restructure the front line in a number of ways, such as by merging response and neighbourhood teams; increasing spend on investigation and public protection functions; increasing use of Special Constables by 9,000; and implementing more efficient working practices.
There are plans for forces to close 264 (22pc) front counters, but to open 137 police access points in shared locations such as libraries and supermarkets (an increase of 49pc). HMIC’s survey of the public indicated that their initial reaction was to be against front counter closures but, after being given information about the hard choices faced by forces, they were more accepting of the action.
HMIC has concerns about the ability of the police to transform its efficiency and sustain current levels of service in the long-term. The 33pc reduction in the non-front line by 2015 can only be replaced by forces transforming their efficiency if they are to avoid essential back office functions simply being transferred to front line staff.
The 6pc reduction in frontline capacity by 2015 can be replaced by making tactical savings. But, if forces are to prepare effectively for further cuts in a future spending round, they need to start now preparing to transform the efficiency of their front line.
Collaboration provides one opportunity to transform and in a report also published on July 2 (‘Increasing Efficiency in the Police Service’), HMIC found almost half of collaborations involve the back office. The report provides a set of practical questions forces and authorities can ask to test whether they are fully exploiting potential savings from collaboration.
HMIC is also concerned that (unlike other forces) the Met does not have a developed plan for the spending review period. They have a gap in their financial plans of £233m and are not yet able to say what the overall shape of their workforce will look like by 2014/15. Both the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, and the Commissioner have declared a firm intention to deal with the issue.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, said: “HMIC is pleased to see that forces have risen to the financial challenge and are generally balancing their books. They are making the difficult decisions that are needed to make savings, while taking steps to protect, although not preserve, frontline services. However, the full effects of these choices are in many cases still to be felt. We will continue to monitor the impact of the cuts, both on the service provided to the public, and on the British model of policing itself.” And HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said: “The need for forces to transform their efficiency remains. We are looking at what might be done to improve the performance of forces crime fighting capability and we are planning a joint project with the NAO to identify learning from a major procurement.”