Police funding and officer numbers
Overall police funding
One of the responsibilities of Police and Crime Commissioners is to set their police force’s total budget and determine the level of the council tax precept that helps pay for this budget. Nationally, police force budgets are paid for in part by central Government funding and in part through local council tax. Avon and Somerset Police’s annual budget is just over £340 million, and in 2010, central Government provided almost 70% of this budget, with just over 30% being paid for by council tax.
However, by 2020, the portion of the budget paid for by central Government had been cut to 60%, meaning that 40% of the budget had to be paid for through the council tax precept to ensure that essential police services were maintained. Overall, central Government funding has been cut by almost one third between 2010 and 2018, representing a huge challenge for Avon and Somerset, and other police forces.
As a result of these central Government funding cuts, police officer numbers in Avon and Somerset fell from 3,300 in 2010 to a low point of just over 2,500 in 2018.
In 2017, increasingly alarmed at the impact of these cuts on the local police service, particularly in combination with the increasing complexity of crimes being committed, the independent Police and Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, and the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police wrote an open letter to the Minister for Policing enclosing a report entitled ‘Tipping Point’. This report made clear the impact that the funding cuts were having and warned of serious consequences if additional investment was not provided.
Following this lobbying of the Government from 2018 onwards, Police and Crime Commissioners were able to make above inflation increases in the council tax precept to fund local police forces. This allowed police budgets to not just keep pace with costs that were rising because of inflation, but also to plug the gap left by falling central Government funding for the police.
Central Government froze the Government portion of police funding for the 2021/22 budget, again effectively delivering a real term cut in police funding when you take projected inflation into account. To allow Police and Crime Commissioners to once again cover this funding gap, they were allowed to raise council tax precept by up to £15 per household. For Avon and Somerset Police, this would equate to £1.30 per month per household over the year, or a 6.8% increase in council tax across the Avon and Somerset police force area.
This was a challenging decision for the Police and Crime Commissioner to make especially given the impact on household budgets of the pandemic, but based on an extensive public consultation and the need to invest to ensure the delivery of the uplift in officers the PCC was not willing to pay the price of central Government funding cuts with public safety, and so recommended the full increase allowed by the Government. The Police and Crime Panel for the area insisted that the precept level was lowered however – the only Police and Crime Panel not to follow the PCC’s recommendation in the country despite Avon and Somerset having the lowest funding per head of population in any area containing one of the 9 Core Cities. The Panel did however support a precept increase of 5.8% which will at least cover the cost of inflation on the whole police budget.
This 2021/22 budget will mean that Avon and Somerset residents are contributing 41% of the total police budget, with central Government funding being cut to 59%, from almost 70% 10 years ago.
You can read The Tipping Point report here.
Additional funding for more police officers
In 2019, central Government announced new, ringfenced funding for an additional 20,000 police officers nationally called Operation Uplift. The funding for Operation Uplift is spread over 3 years starting in financial year 2020/21 and ending in 2022/23. This funding can only be used for the recruitment of new police officers and cannot be used to make up the shortfall in overall police budgets created by the ongoing central Government funding cuts.
Following the delivery of the first year of Operation Uplift funding, central Government has now reduced the Uplift target for 2021/22 by 2,000 new officers nationally, saying that instead it intends to make that number up in the final year of Operation Uplift in 2022/23. This change in the profile of the Operation Uplift funding has not yet been confirmed.
New police officers take 3 years to be fully qualified under the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship scheme. By March 2026 on current projections, Avon and Somerset Police will have fully trained officer numbers at levels similar to those seen in 2010. However, police officers leave at a rate of approximately 200 per year so over the period Avon and Somerset will need to recruit in excess of 1,000 police officers to meet the target. I am pleased to say that they are currently on track to do so, and if elected, I will continue to lobby central Government for the Operation Uplift funding to be protected and delivered in full by the end of the 2022/23 financial year.
You can read the Police Foundation Report on police funding and officer numbers here.