The Funding of Essex Police
The announcements made in Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on November 25 about changes to police funding are good news for Essex, but significant challenges still remain.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, the funding of our police service is primarily my responsibility. I will continue to be open and as clear as I can be in communicating a complex and fast-changing situation which impacts on all of us in Essex.
The funding for our police service comes from two main sources. Around two thirds of the police budget comes from a central government grant whilst the remaining one third is taken from the council tax precept for policing.
With regards to the core central grant, police forces had previously been advised by government to prepare for cuts of around 5 per cent per year over the next four years, or 20-25 per cent by 2019-20. We judged that this would mean cuts of £19.6 million in 2016-17, a figure that took into account a 2 per cent (or around 6 pence a week) increase in the policing precept or local council tax.
Following yesterday’s announcement, the best estimate is that Essex Police will still need to make spending cuts of between £10-12 million in 2016-17. We will not know the precise figure until the full financial detail of the Comprehensive Spending Review is communicated by government in mid-December 2015. Most of this £10-12 million is cost pressures such as changes to National Insurance and inflation that all police forces still have to meet. In addition, the government has indicated that part of the central funding may be “top-sliced”, in effect ring-fenced at the national level for certain specialist functions – such as increasing the number of trained firearms officers in the aftermath of the horrors of Paris.
So, the precise amount of central core grant for Essex Police is still unknown. In addition, over the summer, the government conducted a review of how much of that central core grant is given to each police force using what is known as the Police Allocation Formula (PAF). Policing Minister Mike Penning described the existing funding system as “out of date”. I agree. It was also virtually impossible to understand.
The findings of that review would have seen Essex Police’s share of central core funding gradually increasing over a four-year period, perhaps by around £10-13 million. Unfortunately, officials had used old data in performing the calculations in the indicative findings, and the implementation of the review has been postponed for a year. I remain hopeful that once this process is completed, Essex Police will receive a larger share of the central police funding pot from 2017-18 onwards.
In relation to the second component of police funding, the policing precept, we pay the second lowest amount in council tax for our policing of any shire county in the country. This has led to significant strains on our police service. The maximum amount by which I can raise the policing portion of council tax without a referendum is 2 per cent. In my first years of office I have raised the policing precept by the maximum allowable amount – in the face of some opposition. Last year, this increase amounted to around 6 pence per week for a Band D property. However, the gap between the local funding that Essex Police receives compared with the funding of forces receiving the average precept remains large.
During the summer, I have been lobbying hard for government to remove the 2 per cent cap for those police force areas with historically low levels of council tax and which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found to be broadly efficient.
As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, it was announced that:
3.16 Council tax flexibility for policing – The government will provide further flexibility for police forces with the lowest council tax bills to raise income from council tax by £5 rather than 2%.
During the past few months, I have been making the case for an increase in policing council tax here in Essex of around 50 pence per week which, as an indication, could fund around 300 police officer posts. The government’s announcement means that I will be able to raise the policing precept by £5 per year, or around 10 pence per week. However, since our financial forecasting for 2016-17 already budgeted for an increase of around 6 pence per week, increasing policing council tax by £5 per year would only raise around an extra £1.2 million.
Of course I welcome this, but it is nowhere near what I believe to be the necessary increase.
I will make the case for a £5 per year increase in the policing precept. If it is agreed, I will ask Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh to use this £1.2 million exclusively for local policing. The Chief Constable is responsible for the operational policing of our county and he must decide how best to deliver community policing with available resources.
Over the next few days, the Chief Constable with his team and I will be discussing in detail how to deliver the £10-12 million savings we will need next year. I am aware that police staff remain unsure of their futures, and we will complete this work as soon as possible.
As we burrow down into the details of policing funding, it is essential that we continue to invest to ensure Essex Police is fit to meet both current and future challenges. I have said many times that some of the changes we are proposing we would be making regardless of the financial context. The current property estate is haemorrhaging money. Essex Police’s 80 buildings are in a poor state of repair. They require £30 million of maintenance work to bring up to standard and expenditure of almost £2 million a year just to maintain the current condition. Based on careful analysis the plan is to reduce the estate to 30 buildings strategically placed around Essex. The force also needs a Headquarters that is modern and fit for purpose both now and for the next 20 years, and we have the opportunity to deliver this.
Contact between police and the public must better reflect the way we live our lives. Very few people report crimes at police stations, and we must make it possible for members of the public to use secure online systems both to tell police about crimes and track the progress of investigations.
As crime changes, Essex Police must adapt and meet these new challenges. I welcome the government’s decision to protect overall police spending. I will continue to work closely with Chief Constable Kavanagh to ensure we deliver the best possible policing service for the people of Essex.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex