Posted: Wednesday 7th October 2015
Like it or not, numbers are everywhere…and they matter! Amongst the most important numbers to me at the moment are the forthcoming comprehensive spending review (CSR) and the review of police funding formula.
Government formulas and their resulting numbers will determine how much cash we have here in Avon and Somerset to spend on policing this region during the current parliament. The bad news is that, in any scenario, we will have less money to spend in the next four years.
We have already made savings of £58 million by the end of this year and planned the next £8 million. In addition, to balance the books in the next four to five years, we could be looking at another £50 million of savings on top of all that. This is because the impending reductions in police funding from the CSR are at risk of being made worse for us here in Avon and Somerset by the government’s proposed changes to the police funding formula.
So what’s going on?
We all accept there were flaws in the last police funding formula. Although I would argue that its biggest flaw was that it was never fully implemented. The old formula was damped to smooth its introduction in 2006/07 and then never "un-damped". This denied Avon and Somerset of some £110 million of needs-assessed funding over the years. The government then abandoned the formula completely in 2012 and simply gave all police forces the same flat rate percentage cuts to funding, year on year in 2012 – 2015, regardless of need.
The new formula proposed by government has been issued for consultation without any worked examples – which always rings alarm bells. So, in the absence of numbers (which are important as I have already highlighted) finance bods like me and my colleagues in the Constabulary have started to run our own numbers and we are producing some rather strange and alarming results.
The new formula weights population as 24% of the formula; deprivation as 50%; inability to raise local tax precept as 16%; and ‘how drunk people are’ (bars per hectare) as 10%. By de-weighting population, ignoring crime stats and awarding funds to areas with lower housing density it would create big winners and losers. Guess into which category Avon and Somerset fits?
You guessed right. Our region could stand to lose another £10-20 million from the proposed police funding formula, on top of the CSR cuts to overall police budgets. Other notable losers from the proposals are: GMP; Thames Valley Police, Merseyside; West Midlands; Hampshire; Devon and Cornwall; Lancashire; West Yorkshire and Northumbria.
It appears that most PCC/Force areas with a core city are losing, while Wales and most ‘Shire forces are winning from this including Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. It strikes me that the proposed formula is disregarding relative need to a dangerous degree….what do you think?
By any measure, all of this is a challenge and could result in Avon and Somerset Police looking and feeling a very different service by 2020. It may be that we have to look at our seriously reduced funding pot and ask ourselves: "what can we actually deliver with this" and start with a clean sheet of paper, rather than ask ourselves "what can’t we do anymore"?
Chief Finance Officer
Avon and Somerset Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner