Why the police funding settlement is all smoke and mirrors
By Steve Hartshorn – Chair PFEW
Yet again policing is awarded a one-year settlement which means forces can look to plan only for 2023 and will struggle to make sustainable and significant plans beyond next year. Key to all our forces’ ability to tackle crime at a serious and long-term level is their ability to prepare for the future and take advantage of procurement economies of scale over multi-year contracts, something that the NHS multi-year settlement allowed, and which we are crying out for the ability to do.
Without this, funding will simply get lost in day-to-day costs incurred by forces. This really is a hand-to-mouth economy.
The thin blue line is broken, and without sufficient investment in policing, officers cannot keep up with new the technological innovations criminals use, will not be able to stretch resources to attend all crimes and, ultimately, will not be able to keep communities safe from the rise in violent crime. We already have six forces in special measures, and I am afraid more may succumb to the lack of investment.
On a surface level the settlement sounds positive and significant, but a more developed understanding reveals that this is yet again more smoke and mirrors from this Government as it fails to acknowledge in financial terms the reality facing policing up and down England and Wales.
The increase in funding is largely driven by allowing police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to take maximum advantage on what they can raise on the local precept. This will see a council tax rise for many at a time when few can afford it. This is also an incredibly unbalanced approach, akin to a postcode lottery. Those communities that are suffering most from crime are reliably less well-off and less able to afford any tax rise, so wealthier communities with lower crime rates will be charging more and having more available to policing, and areas in which significant investment in policing is needed most will see the least investment.
We see too, that there is significant focus on the recruitment drive for 20,000 more officers. Whilst every new officer is welcomed, this is, as we have always maintained, too low a target and would only return officer numbers to those we had in 2010 when many more are needed, indeed, our national population has grown by at least four million since 2010.
The target is for 20,000 new officers by March 2023, something we feel may not be reached, but should it be, we have continually argued that recruitment is only half the process, and that retention should be as much a focus. The latest figures indicate 8,117 (FTE) police officers left the 43 forces in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022 – the highest number of leavers since comparable records began.
It is imperative to ensure those we recruit are sufficiently incentivised to stay – especially through a fair pay increase which takes into consideration the cost-of-living crisis. We are losing some exceptional officers simply because they cannot afford to stay in the service which is devastating to witness.
The Government must acknowledge the thousands of police officers in England and Wales who have endured brutal cuts to pay and deteriorating working conditions since 2010, with a real-terms pay cut between 25 and 30 per cent. We have submitted our initial range of options to the Government for some short, medium, and long-term solutions, many of which were in the speech to conference in May this year.
We are also having meetings with senior government ministers, eternal stakeholders and MPs to show the value of policing and pressing as hard as we can for our members in those meetings as they make the final decisions. Our brave officers who run towards danger do so much more than fighting crime, they protect the most vulnerable in society and are a service of first, and last resort. Yesterday I spoke of my concerns as the police are called upon to cover more and more public sector workers.
We will continue to implore the Government to invest in our people, technology and infrastructure, and help us to improve and future-proof the police service.
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