Warning Over Police Budget Cuts
Gwent PCC Ian Johnston made his comments in the wake of the Home Office publishing its provisional police grant settlement this week (December 17th 2014) which indicates that the Central Government grants for policing will be reduced by 5.1% in 'cash terms' in 2015/16 from that received in 2014/15. This cash reduction is a combination of cuts to the Home Office overall departmental budget as well as significant top-slicing of Commissioners budgets to fund other Home Office priorities.
Mike Penning, the Home Office Minister, said the central government police grant will fall to £8.2 billion in 2015-16, down £299 million on the current year. The level of capital funding is yet to be confirmed.
The funding of Gwent Police and the provision of policing services in Gwent form part of Mr Johnston's statutory duties and it is his responsibility to ensure that Gwent has appropriate levels of policing to meet the requirements of communities whilst making necessary savings.
The Commissioner has raised concerns about the rationale behind continuously reducing the budget of frontline policing which he believes will only succeed in stretching already diminished resources to dangerous levels in future.
Gwent has already lost 223 Police Officers as a result of cuts since 2010/11 and 169 staff members. The Central Government grant for policing in Gwent in 2010/11 was £84.684 million and this was reduced to £76.844 million by 2014/15. This equates to nearly a 30% 'real' reduction in Central Government grant for Gwent Police.
Gwent Police is facing a recurrent financial deficit of £5.9 million in the next financial year and this will rise to at least £18.9 million by 2018/19. This is in addition to the financial deficit of £32 million which arose between 2008/09 and 2014/15 which has been successfully met through efficiency savings.
Highlighting his concerns, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston, said: "Whilst I understand the need for cuts during times of austerity, I am very concerned about the rationale behind continuously reducing the budget of frontline policing. These on-going cuts are not sustainable and will only succeed in further stretching our already diminishing resources to dangerous levels in future. You just can't put a price on public safety.
This will no doubt have an adverse effect on all of the priorities outlined in my police and crime plan and these brutal cuts to policing are bound to have an impact on police service provision. We have already lost over 220 police officers in Gwent and nearly 170 staff members. We can't just rely on new technology to deliver improvements in policing. Rural areas such as Gwent are best served by officers on the ground. I think people need to realise that as austerity measures bite even further, we will need to concentrate policing into priority areas first. I honestly don't think the scale of planned cuts to the police service over the next few years has been understood by the public or politicians. The reality is that we have some tough challenges ahead and we have to be more flexible and agile to meet the demands."
Continued funding pressures in 2015/16 mean that to achieve recurring financial stability, substantial saving schemes are being developed and implemented in Gwent and a comprehensive series of reviews and reforms to streamline how the Force works is well underway.
"The projected decrease in funding from Central Government is over and above what was initially predicted and has led to a reassessment of the approach needed to generate savings which will allow a sufficient and sustainable budget to be delivered," explained Mr Johnston.
"We are currently looking at a significant restructure of the operational policing model to future proof policing and service provision here in Gwent. Solid plans are in place and we are actively implementing the 'Staying Ahead 8' efficiency programme to ensure that we have the appropriate level of staffing and resources required within the constraints set. I am also aiming to use my commissioning powers to mitigate the impact of cuts by funding partner services focussed on crime prevention to reduce demand on core policing. We are also looking at enhancing greater collaboration opportunities with other Forces and key community partners and to use police data more effectively to send officers to areas where they are needed most. Whilst it's not an answer to everything, embracing new technology is also important as are IT systems that help in the detection of crime, which is vital when you consider the increase in incidents of cybercrime. I am also considering an additional marginal increase in the council tax for 2015/16 over that currently built into my financial plan, which I will discuss with the Gwent Police and Crime Panel when we meet next. This will reduce the amount of reserves required to balance the budget next year."