Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Planning in uncertain times

21-11-2019

By Alison Dewhirst, CIPFA’s Police Advisor

With a December general election looming, it is imperative to consider how any delay to the police financial settlement will impact police and crime commissioners (PCCs), police forces and the communities they serve.

Following each annual police settlement, PCCs set their precepts and finalise their plans for the coming year. This process faces greater uncertainty this year due to the timing of the election. If delayed until 2020, there will be additional pressure on PCCs and their CFOs to clear a precept for 2020/21 in sufficient time to comply with the regulatory timescale.

There is no legal requirement for the Home Office to publish a provisional settlement for police. This may give a little grace but, depending on the timing of the announcement, there may still be little room for manoeuvre. PCCs will also be looking ahead to their own elections in May 2020, which may be a factor in precept setting for next year. Over the last few years, all PCCs have taken the full allowance by the government and it will be interesting to see if this continues.

Additional government funding for police by the Boris Johnson administration has been promised for the coming year. The promise of an additional 20,000 police officers over the next three years is a welcome increase in numbers, and the current administration has committed to funding associated costs such as training and kit for 2020/21. But it will be a challenge to recruit the officers in the time given – and what happens financially if forces fail?

If there is a change of government and policy direction, where does this leave PCCs and forces in their medium term planning, both operational and financial? Though which political party would want to be seen to be curtailing this welcome replenishment of officer numbers?

In the meantime, police forces face ever-changing and increasing demand with calls from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) for forces to predict and plan how to meet future demand. Medium term operational planning and financial planning should go hand in hand, ensuring a coherent and consistent approach to addressing and resourcing future demands on the service.

This is not easy at a time of such political and financial uncertainty, combined with the ongoing issue of single year settlements for police. There are also calls for a review of the police allocation formula as soon as is practically possible.

Sustainability cannot be ensured if we are working entirely in the short term. We urge any new administration to provide a police settlement as soon as possible and provide certainty on both a spending review and whether a review of the police allocation formula will be undertaken. We must keep in mind the overall role of police – to protect those in need and deliver a safer society. This cannot be done effectively if we are stuck in financial limbo.

For additional information or to enquire about the police network, please contact Alison Dewhirst at alison.dewhirst@cipfa.org.