After a short break covered by ACC Foulkes I thought it may perhaps be helpful this week to jump back in before the next blog by the team as there has been so much coverage of cuts.
This week has been a difficult one for police community support officers as we have confirmed that between now and 2020 we are planning on numbers being reduced from a current strength of 535 to 119 in the new WMP2020 neighbourhood model. The precise rate at which these numbers reduce will be determined as our future funding becomes clear. There are three points that need making on this subject:
Firstly, I am very sorry for PCSOs affected by this news. I am pleased we feel confident that a number of posts can be retained but this does not help people who now fear for their future. I think we all respect the service you are providing communities at this tough time.
Secondly, I want to be clear that we are retaining a strong neighbourhood policing offer in the 2020 model on police officers. The new Neighbourhood Policing Units that will replace LPUs are all about neighbourhood policing and local intervention.
Finally, this will not be the last difficult announcement as we clearly will need to make further staffing reductions. I understand this is a tense time and although this announcement has been about PCSOs I’m sensitive to all staff who are at risk.
If you have been following the media lately you will probably be confused as to what is going on with police funding. At one stage you may even have thought we were about to get more money. Let me try to help.
The government will announce, in its autumn statement on the 25 November, the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review that allocates the government’s budget over the next parliament. The Chancellor will allocate the budgets to each Whitehall department. Within the Home Office allocation will be the money given in the police grant. This is vital for West Midlands Police as it accounts for 82 per cent of our total funding. The rest is made up from local taxation the PCC raises.
The Home Office is not a ring-fenced department and so has been asked to model cuts of 25 – 40 per cent over the lifetime of the parliament. In November we will become aware of the Home Office’s budget and the size of cut it will need to make. In December the Home Office will announce what our police grant will be in 2016-17 and hopefully give an indication across the next parliament so we can plan. The current 2020 programme plans for around 20+ per cent reduction at this point but we can model up from this if we need to.
The last few weeks have changed nothing about the budget reductions planned. We still have no idea on the size of the cuts.
What has been hotly debated is the portion of the police grant each force will get. Currently a funding formula seeks to determine what percentage of the grant each force should get. The old formula has never been fully implemented because the impact was deemed very great on some forces. Currently the formula says we ought to receive £44m more each year but we never received this because winners mean losers!
The government has decided to create a new formula that is up to date for 2016 onwards. I agree with this but the consultation on the formula has been beset with problems and we have not been comfortable how the government went about this. In part, this has been because there are winners and losers, but mainly because there are some problems most people can see in the design of the model and the data used. It is complex and we needed to employ advisors to help us look at the data used in the model.
A few weeks ago as part of the final consultation the government published new data that would, if applied this year, lift our grant by about £37m. You may have seen in the papers headlines saying we were to receive a cash boost. If you followed the headlines you may have also seen last Friday the Home Office admit some of the data used in the model is not from the right data source, which appears to change this. I think this was at best unfortunate and in reality highly damaging. As a result of this the formula will now not be implemented next year.
Either way it is important that this formula is simply a way of dividing a police grant that may be cut by 25 – 40 per cent. It is extremely unlikely anyone will see a cash boost. At best it simply means a lower level of cuts. It is important to remember that government will have to phase in any changes that we make. Remember the current formula says we should get more and 10 years on it has never been implemented.
This is the reason why we have had to press on with the PCSO reductions and will need to continue with planning further staff reductions.
Finally, I have to confess some of the positions on cuts being adopted by colleagues across the country have concerned me. It is right and professional to explain the changes needed to deal with reduced policing budgets and alert government to the implications. It is quite wrong to directly campaign or draw up lists of things the police will stop doing.
WMP2020 will help us meet the challenge. We do, and will continue, to influence the Home Office on budgets. As we are clearer on the actual funding we will have then we will be clear with the public on what they can expect to see delivered differently. This will be a very tough phase but we will still protect those we serve.