#024/2013 – Police forces are rising to the financial challenge so far; but further cuts to budgets create risks for some forces

Police forces in England and Wales are rising to the financial challenge of the spending review – crime is down, victim satisfaction up, and they are protecting their front lines as much as possible; but HMIC has concerns about the ability of five forces to respond to future cuts.

HMIC has tracked police forces’ response to budget cuts since summer 2011, using force data and inspection to analyse how they are making savings, and the impact of this on their workforce, and on the service they provide to their communities.

The third report in this series (‘Policing in Austerity: Rising to the Challenge’, which is published today), found that overall there has been a good response to the financial challenge at this halfway point in the spending review period. Most forces in England and Wales have plans in place to balance their books by March 2015, and have already made the vast majority of workforce reductions planned for the whole spending review period.

They have also taken material steps to protect their front line as they make these cuts. For instance, while forces plan to have 6,600 fewer frontline police officers by March 2015 (compared to March 2010, a reduction of 5%), the proportion of those left who will be in frontline roles is expected to increase from 89% to 93%.

However, some forces have cut costs by expanding the remit of neighbourhood policing teams to cover response and investigative roles. HMIC has concerns that this may mean they have less time for the crime prevention work which has traditionally been their focus (and which HMIC considers to be crucial to the success of the police’s principal purpose of protecting the public).

HMIC is also concerned that some forces have missed opportunities to lay the foundations for long-term savings or increases in efficiency, and that this may damage their effectiveness in the face of further cuts. For instance, the inspection revealed little collaboration activity (either between forces, or with the private or wider public sector): only 18 forces are expecting to deliver 10% or more of their savings in this way).

More generally, the technology available to police officers (which should be helping them to do more with less) remains poor. Police officers and staff continue to be frustrated by out-of-date systems and equipment.

Finally, HMIC considers that five forces will find it especially difficult to cope with further budget cuts after March 2015. This is either because they have already made significant cuts, and have few options left (Bedfordshire Police and Lincolnshire Police); because they have chosen to take the (relatively) easy option in this spending review period, and rely on short-term savings, rather than transforming their efficiency (West Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Police); or because of significant performance issues, which they will struggle to rectify at the same time as making further cuts (Northamptonshire Police).

The report makes a number of recommendations for the police service, PCCs, the Home Office, and the College of Policing.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said:

“Overall, the response to the financial challenge by police forces has been good, and we recognise the hard work of police officers, PCSOs and staff which underpins this success.

However, we have found a considerable variation in the approaches taken by forces – and in some cases, this leaves us with concerns about how some forces will manage in the face of further cuts. We also have some concerns that neighbourhood policing risks being eroded as forces change how they deliver local policing. Finally, there are missed opportunities, the overall progress on collaboration, which is driving major efficiencies in some forces, is deeply disappointing. The Government, College of Policing, HMIC, PCCs and chief constables must all work together to ensure that the police are in the best possible position to grasp these opportunities, and to continue providing a high standard of service to the people of England and Wales.”

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, said:

“In these times of austerity and considerable financial challenges, it is to the credit of the police service that so many forces have shown themselves able to protect the front line and make the necessary savings.

“In the longer term, however, the police will need to achieve even greater efficiencies to be able to provide a sound and sustainable service with reduced resources. Working smarter – doing things in different ways – will be necessary. That will include greater measures of collaboration between forces and with the private sector and other parts of the public sector. It will also mean using modern technology to make the very best use of police time, keeping officers on the streets, making people safe, and not spending time in the police station using outdated technology in inefficient working practices.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report (and previous reports in the series) can be found at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/programmes/value-for-money/policing-in-austerity-rising-to-the-challenge/
  2. The inspection focused on: What is the financial challenge, and how are forces responding to it? What is the impact of the changes that forces are making, both on the workforce, and on the service they provide to the public? How are forces managing current and future risks?
  3. HMIC collected data and savings plans from the 43 Home Office-funded forces in England and Wales; surveyed the public, to find out if they had noticed any changes in the service they receive from the police as a result of the cuts; and conducted in-force inspections; interviewed the Chief Constable, PCC, and the chief officer leads for finance, change, human resources and performance in each force; and held focus groups with other officers and with police staff.
  4. In October 2010, the Government announced that the central funding provided to the police service would reduce by 20% in the four years between March 2011 and March 2015.
  5. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies.
  6. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  7. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.