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Budget cuts set to destabilise even efficient police forces

A police force has, for the first time ever, been found to be ‘inadequate’ after an inspection from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) – a symptom of wider deterioration in the sector due to an inability to forecast demand properly.

A report from HMIC found that police forces face major challenges in the coming years from slashed budgets, less officers and more complex crime, meaning policing is now entertaining “uncharted waters”.

Reductions in their workforces and large financial losses are also likely to lead to “further erosion in neighbourhood policing”.

And without significant efficiency improvement, some forces could become financially unsustainable in face of projected budget reductions. It is also “conceptually possible” that even an efficient force could become unsustainable or operationally unviable if its funding does not match the plans of its police and crime commissioner.

As a result, local forces will now be required to produce an annual statement covering all areas of demand and capabilities to ensure they are sensitive to and reflective of local circumstances.

HMI Mike Cunningham, who led the 2015 inspection looking at how well forces understood service demand and how they matched resources to it, said: “The next five years will be more challenging for forces as they strive to make further reductions in budgets and workforce, while dealing with increasingly complex crime.

“Forces have made great strides in assessing the current demand for their service, however they need to improve their ability to forecast demand. Only by achieving this level of understanding can forces make informed decisions on how to make best use of their resources.

“Typically forces think in terms of numbers of officers and staff when developing workforce plans, rather than their skills and capabilities that will be required in the future. They need to start building their capability now, informed by a clearer understanding of future demand.”

Although several forces have a good understanding of the current demand for their service and know their current capacity in terms of cost and staff, too many do not.

And the robustness of their financial planning varies considerably, especially as changes to police funding will only be announced in the Spending Review.

Their IT needs also needs considerable improvement, with too many systems being weak, ageing and inefficient.

HMIC’s chief inspector, Sir Thomas Winsor, said that HMIC is developing a ‘template force management statement’ to ensure forces enhance their understanding of future demand.

“Each force will be required to produce an annual statement covering all these areas, projecting demand, capacity, capability and efficiency improvements for four to five years ahead.

“Force management statements will follow a national template, but be sensitive to and reflective of local circumstances, including principally the police and crime plan issued by the police and crime commissioner.”

The eight forces currently rated as ‘requires improvement’ are:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Cleveland
  • Dorset
  • Dyfed-Powys
  • Lincolnshire
  • Northamptonshire
  • South Yorkshire
  • Surrey

The force graded ‘inadequate’ was Humberside.

The Public Accounts Committee has also previously blamed the Home Office’s “hands-off” approach to police forces for its hindered ability to deliver services, claiming it does not understand the true impact of cuts on local policing.


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