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5 June 2015
Yesterday the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on the financial stability of the police service. The ensuing headlines focused on the report’s assertion that the Home Office “has insufficient information to determine how much further it can reduce funding without degrading services”. Some have interpreted this to mean that the cuts to the police budget have damaged performance and further cuts will make this even worse. This is not what the NAO said. Stating that there is “insufficient information on service stress” is not the same thing as saying that the service is under stress.
Policymakers and practitioners should take away three key messages from the report. Firstly, a much more robust understanding of police demand is needed. The NAO are not the first people to make this point. The Home Secretary in her speech to the Police Federation annual conference last month talked about the need to “understand demand better” and in my blog on police reform last week I cited this as a key precursor to improving productivity and capability. Data and information is vital to understanding how well a service is performing. It is also vital to ensuring resources are deployed effectively and efficiently. The failure of the majority of forces to get to grips with what their officers are doing on a day to day basis is reflective of a service that has not historically been driven by evidence.
Secondly, a much smarter police funding formula is needed. The NAO is right to highlight the wildly differing reliance on central versus local funding and the failure to accurately reflect threat and demand levels. Addressing this must be a priority for the Home Secretary.
Thirdly, a more strategic approach to savings is needed. Whilst there is little doubt that many forces are indeed under considerable strain, this doesn’t mean that further budget reductions are impossible. This is evidenced in the NAO’s comment that “overall many of the savings so far could be characterised as tactical or efficiency savings, rather than service transformation.” This is the nub of the issue, traditional policing models are no longer fit for purpose. Both to improve outcomes and deliver further savings forces need to rethink their operating models.
All three of these points, if addressed, would enable further savings and improved outcomes. It is through understanding demand that forces can redesign their operating models, and this will require a transformative approach. The Government and police forces should embrace the NAOs recommendations.
Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director, Reform