policing at a crossroads?


By Alison Dewhirst, Police Advisor, CIPFA

Prime Minister David Cameron announced £25 billion of spending cuts over the first two years of the next Parliament to balance the books by 2018. If we expect Education and Health and overseas aid to continue to be protected, this means reductions being borne by non-protected public services such as the police service, fire and rescue service and local authorities.

It is acknowledged that the easy savings have been made already and it will be increasingly difficult to make additional savings within the current structures. For policing, this could mean a radical change of structure to deliver services. Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables will face a sustained challenge to use the limited resources in the most effective way. But what are the opportunities for forces to operate in more integrated and coordinated ways in order to deliver national and local socio economic objectives?

Last month, the Home Secretary Theresa May stated that the pressure on resources will necessitate the integration of emergency services in the next Parliament. The extent to which police forces and fire and rescue services are currently embracing collaboration varies and it could be argued that it is too early to evaluate success and what works at this stage.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said in her speech to the Labour Party conference last month that the findings of the Lord Stevens report would be implemented but didn’t go as far as to say state whether this would include force mergers, referring instead to greater collaboration. Reducing the number of forces from 43 has been an on-going debate for some years and some chief constables and the Police Superintendents’ Association are calling for a reduction in the number of forces.

On issues of funding, Government grant remains the main source of funding for most PCCs, and the mechanisms for allocating nearly £9billion a year of grants are crucial. Discussions are taking place about future options for needs assessment and grant distribution. At the same time, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has raised issues of financial sustainability of some of the smaller forces. HMIC and National Audit Office are undertaking work on resilience, to identify the criteria which measure effectiveness and, even more importantly, the signs which indicate growing pressures on sustainability. There are also issues of governance facing the service, such as Police and Crime Commissioners taking on the commissioning of victims’ services and work on simplifying police accounts.

We will be debating some of these issues and wider resourcing and governance implications at the CIPFA Police Conference Cost-effective Policing: the new challenge on 4 November in London.