Last week was dominated by the discussions the Chief Constable had with Police Community Support Officers. I do not wish to replay that discussion but we have been really keen to be open with people about the future. We have always recognised around 2,500 roles will be lost at West Midlands Police based upon the level of budget cuts predicted by the Office of Budget Responsibility. We had previously indicated PCSO numbers would fall at the same rate as officers and staff. That position is not going to be possible in the next five years; although we do not feel we can be clear on actual numbers yet. I know PCSOs are keen to have more information on this and we will provide it when we can do as I know these are real decisions affecting real people.
One reason for this is uncertainties over future funding so I thought I would explain a little how this works. As you may have seen in the media the Chancellor’s outline for the Autumn statement has asked non ring-fenced departments (this includes the Home Office) to look for savings over the next Comprehensive Spending Review of 25 – 40%. This is potentially more challenging than we anticipated after the post-election budget.
Planning for the future is difficult as a new funding formula for policing is being consulted on. Currently we secure around 83% of our budget from central government (nationally it is 68%) so how the government allocates this money is important. Having so much of the budget relating to the central grant is high compared to most forces and reflects our policing challenges as a demanding area and the fact we have less ability to raise local taxation. We have seen our central grant cut by over 20% in the last few years. This means we have taken heavier cuts as we are cutting 20%+ of 82% of the budget as opposed to some taking a 20%+ cut in 46% of their budget. This was reflected recently by a report by the National Audit Office and you can see the numbers.
If you have friends in other forces you may wonder why the conversation here is more challenging and this data shows why. We have, in fact, had to find £25m more savings than we would have needed to had our budget been reduced at the average of all forces. Forces are in very different places and some, like us, are more heavily affected by austerity. These challenges mean some serious conversations with the public as well as you our staff.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council Head Chief Constable Sara Thornton has begun to open up a discussion with the public that things are going to be different this time. To most of the public little has been seen to change in policing. Crime has fallen and actually quite a lot has improved in the service we offer as we have had to consider how we do things as opposed to just what. I think you will as staff members have seen the challenges the last few years have brought.
Budget cuts this time may at best just match what we have done in the last five years. We are approaching a point where policing will be around 45% smaller in this Force than it was in 2010. I believe we can still provide effective protection to the public but that does mean doing things differently and investing time and resources in things we know actually work in making people safe or threaten the greatest harm. This time it means that many of the things we do now that perhaps are reassuring or are valued by the community may not be possible. We may be less visible and our legitimacy may suffer. Through our work in WMP2020 we will be ensuring these changes are clearly set out to you and the public.
You may have seen last week the media coverage of the first public misconduct hearing we ran in Force due to the way we managed public attendance. I have to start off by saying whilst I applaud a desire to make policing more transparent I have concerns over the new public hearing requirements and we are having to learn carefully how to do these. To give an example we have no real buildings where we can grant open public access and accommodate a hearing properly. These events are now also conducted in a raised security environment. The desire to operate a registration process was understandable but in practice this did not work out well and was insensitive. I am sorry we didn’t get this right and we are not trying to turn these events into a circus as they are clearly very stressful for all concerned.
Finally, I am well aware that July into August has been a busy month as always. Thank you for your hard work to ensure we are still providing the reliable and responsive service we should all be proud of. For those about to go on holiday enjoy a well earned break.