Mark Burns-Williamson: Police need the resources to do their job
LAST week the National Audit Office highlighted the financial sustainability of policing in order to meet the ever-growing complexity of crime. Its findings resonate here in West Yorkshire, given real terms budget reductions of around Â£140m since 2010.
The last policing settlement gave PCCs some additional flexibility to increase their local police precept, but the funding formula administered by Government has – for a long time – been a subject of discussion among police and crime commissioners.
There is currently little cognisance of the fact that some areas, such as West Yorkshire, face greater challenges than others and therefore needs additional resources to manage them.
The NAO report provides much of the evidence needed to recognise why we are in this position, and that a bigger conversation – and urgency – from the Government is required if we are to address the issues. There are examples within it which clearly encapsulate the frustrations and discrepancies.
For instance, it reveals reductions of around 25 per cent for a force in the North and 11 per cent for a constabulary in the South. As the formula hasn’t been reviewed for more than 20 years, these differences have been exacerbated.
This prolonged period of inaction has contributed to more uncertainty and unfairness, along with the significant overall reductions in central grant.
Both must be tackled if the overall financial position of policing and community safety is to improve.
Until we achieve a greater level of resources and equity in the way funding is allocated centrally, we will continue to see many forces with the greatest obstacles struggling to overcome them in order to help keep the public safe.
Solely relying on PCCs to raise ever more funds locally, passing a greater burden to local taxpayers, is not fair the answer.
Many things have changed in society during this time, including crime types, which means the original criteria for the funding formula is no longer fit for purpose.
At the moment we are at a distinct disadvantage, particularly as we see regional and national rises in criminal exploitation, serious organised and violent crime, whilst new offences have emerged such as cyber crime and modern day slavery, with most crimes now having some form of digital or technological involvement.
These are key themes within my recently refreshed Police and Crime Plan for West Yorkshire and are issues which I am committed to tackling along with Dee Collins, the Chief Constable. However, since 2010, my force has seen in the region of £140m in cuts, which has meant working to significantly reduced budgets and the loss of around 2,000 police jobs.
These financial forecasts do not appear to be getting any brighter, with millions more in future savings still expected without any predicted uplift in the central Government grant, which accounts for about 70 per cent of our budget – or changes to the aforementioned funding formula.
It is something which I have had to contend with year on year in setting the local policing precept, ensuring that we have enough resources to balance the books and help bolster frontline capacity.
What is obvious, however, is that there is no real strategic central overview of the consequences of the significant cuts we have faced over the past 10 years, and as set out in the NAO report. It is now time to look again at the overall strategic direction of policing.
The comments of the last few days from frontline officers about the things they have to deal with are in no way unusual and show why we must give policing the priority it deserves. Not just in my role as West Yorkshire PCC, but as Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), I will continue to raise the issues of resources and demand on a national platform.
We need to provide the best service we can with the resources that we have, but there just isn’t enough money available for quality of policing which is recognised by the wider public.
I will be working closely with my PCC counterparts, the National Police Chief’s Council and the Home Office to review these issues and ensure they are fully considered prior to the next Spending Review by the Government.
Mark Burns-Williamson OBE is the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the National Association of PCCs (APCC).