Building sustainable policing for the future
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I believe it is essential to ensure that the Chief Constable and his senior team concentrate on keeping the force equipped for tomorrow’s challenges as well as today’s. We must build sustainable policing for the future, and that means taking strategic decisions about matters such as the Essex Police property estate and technology.
There is major work taking place within Essex Police to develop strategies around police buildings and the IT infrastructure which takes the medium term into account, not just short term need. Against a backdrop of reduced funding, we need our police to be able to fight crime and keep communities safe as smartly and effectively as possible.
As we approach the end of financial year 2013-14, the provisional analysis suggests that Essex Police is forecast to underspend against its allocated total budget by about 1 to 1.5 per cent, or around £4 million. I should stress that this figure is provisional, and the final figure will not be firm until later in the year.
So, what is the background to this, and what will happen to the money?
Firstly, whatever the final figure, I can guarantee that every single penny will be spent on policing and keeping our communities safe. None of that money will be lost to the people of Essex.
Secondly, as a general principle, I believe it is important for organisations to avoid redundancy wherever possible. This is about the welfare of staff and the morale of all those working for the organisation. In some areas of the force, by not recruiting when people left the organisation, Essex Police has been able to reduce its headcount without having to implement formal redundancy processes. It has, though, led to underspending this year.
Thirdly, I am both asking and expecting the Chief Constable and his senior team to deliver tighter financial controls which will be crucial in 2014-15 and especially in 2015-16 when we hit acute financial shortages. Essex Police is facing a financial cliff in 2015-16, and any money which is not spent in 2013-14 will be used to mitigate the risks arising both next year and in 2015-16.
Finally, I understand the desire and prudence of Essex Police in not wanting to over-spend against their budget. The key now is to ensure that every single penny is properly used.
I’ll expand on some of the detail. There has been a 4.8 per cent reduction of central government grant to fund policing and community safety from 2013-14 to 2014-15, equivalent to £8.4million. The other source of money for policing is a portion of council tax known as the precept, and in Essex this is the fourth lowest of any shire county police force. All in all, when costs pressures are taken into account, Essex Police has to make savings of around £11 million in 2014-15 as compared with 2013-14. As around 84 per cent of the Essex Police budget is spent on salaries, this inevitably means that there will be fewer police officers, PCSOs and police staff in the future.
Essex Police budgeted for 360 PCSOs in 2013-14, but the actual number of serving PCSOs has reduced through the year to around 310 due to people leaving the force or retiring. The Evolve programme is in the advanced stages of work to determine the number of police officers, PCSOs and police staff in 2014-15, and how they can be most effectively deployed across Essex and the unitary authorities of Thurrock and Southend. However, it is likely that the number of PCSOs fully funded by Essex Police will decrease slightly. Given this, I agreed with Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh’s decision to allow the number of PCSOs to fall from 360 by natural turnover rather than having to resort to making individuals redundant.
This difference between the budget allocated to PCSOs in 2013-14 and the amount actually spent accounts for a significant part of the budget underspend. We will be able to use that money to mitigate some of the effects of the £11 million savings needed, but the number of police officers, PCSOs and police staff will still be under considerable pressure.
In terms of the underspend, there are also some items which were in the Essex Police budget for 2013-14 where I have intervened and asked the force to undertake more work before committing the money. For instance, before progressing with any major decisions about police stations and buildings, the force will be reviewing all of its property estate and producing a detailed strategy. This inevitably means that some money earmarked for expenditure in 2013-14 will now not be spent in this financial year.
Whilst we will be seeing fewer police officers and PCSOs on our streets over the next few years because the amount of money made available to fund policing is reducing, I am absolutely determined to ensure that all parts of Essex receive policing which is responsive, visible and close to communities – both now and in the medium term.
Local policing will continue to be at the heart of the Essex Police operating model, with officers and staff working from local bases, with a good local knowledge, responding to the needs of local communities in conjunction with local partners. Those local policing teams will continue to respond to calls for assistance, investigate local crime and anti-social behaviour, deal with local offenders and work with partners to solve local problems.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex