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27.11.15

PCCs warn pledge to protect police funding could be misleading

During this week’s Spending Review the chancellor pledged to protect police funding in real terms over the next four years, but senior police figures worry that when the provisional grant allocations are announced the words could “ring a bit hollow.”

George Osborne stated that there will be “no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we’re going to protect the police”.

He also plans to offer Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) more flexibility in local funding decisions by allowing areas that have historically kept council tax low to raise an extra £12m per year in precepts.

According to the chancellor, protecting police spend will lead to an increase of £900m in cash terms by 2019-20, providing enough funding to maintain overall force budgets at current levels.

While PCCs, the Police Federation and the National Police Chief’s Council welcomed the initial announcement, there are now questions being asked over the finer details and where the funding comes from.

Vera Baird, Northumbria PCC, said it was a remarkable u-turn as sources close to him said he was determined to cut policing by up to 25% again.

“As ever the devil is in the detail. A letter from the Home Secretary [sent on 26 November] says that there will actually be a small cut of 1.3% over four years,” she said.

“It also indicates no funding to pay for the increase in cash for counter-terrorism announced, nor for the pledged enhancement to mobile communications, nor to fund collaborative back office savings.”

Osborne had announced that the Home Office (HO) will make £500m of new investments to 2021 in the UK’s core counter terrorism capabilities. Additionally, the government will spend 30% more overall in real terms on key counter terrorism capabilities over the Parliament.

Caution required

But Bedfordshire PCC Olly Martins says after looking closely at the available information that extreme caution is required.

“The chancellor marched us up to the top of the hill with his suggestion in the summer that policing would face cuts somewhere in the region of 25-40% and of course I am relieved that the government was persuaded cuts on this scale were a really bad idea, particularly following the Paris attacks,” he said.

“However, we need to be clear that Mr. Osborne has not marched us all the way back down the hill again because the Bedfordshire Police budget is still likely to be cut by up to 16% over the next four years.

“How do I come to this conclusion? The 30% increase in funding for counter-terrorism, the 50% increase in armed policing capability, the investment in IT and the Bluelight collaboration Innovation Fund were all highlighted by Mr Osborne as investment. But he omitted to say whose money he was thinking of investing.  This isn’t new money - it will all be taken from the police funding cake before it is divided between the 43 police forces, meaning individual force budgets will be cut.”

He added that forces will know more just before Christmas when the Home Office announces its provisional grant allocations to police forces, but Martins says he suspects that “by then the chancellor’s words about protecting police funding will ring a bit hollow”.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, told the Telegraph that it is clear the budget freeze relies on PCCs increasing council tax every year over the term of the Parliament and also doesn’t mean individual force budgets are frozen.

“It’s clear we will still struggle to maintain our police numbers at current levels, so while I welcome the Chancellor’s change of heart on cuts, to say budgets will be protected is somewhat misleading,” he said.

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