MPs question Home Office's oversight of police funding

Latest report by the public accounts committee warns police could bear brunt of "cost shunting" by other departments, but Home Office says it is working on reforms to make the system more "fair, robust and transparent"

By Dods Group

18 Sep 2015

The Home Office does not have all the information it needs to properly assess the impact of cuts to police funding, MPs have said.

A report by the public accounts committee (PAC) found that most police forces "lack sufficient information on the current and future demands they face", and said the Home Office had only limited information on the impact that cost reductions made by other departments would have on the police workload.

The committee said: "The department told us it was concerned that policing does not become the 'social service of first resort' outside office hours in areas such as mental health because other services were not available. It recognised that this is an issue that has to be tackled cross-government.

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"However, no data currently exists which show the extent to which police forces are filling gaps in services that should be provided by others. HMIC [the independent police inspectorate] has not systematically included police forces’ responses to mental health issues in its inspections as yet."

The report also warned of "limited oversight" of outsourced services and questioned the current devolved model whereby local Police and Crime Commissioners work with chief constables to decide on which functions can be run by outside firms.

"Some police forces have already outsourced specific functions, for example Lincolnshire Police have an arrangement with G4S to provide various back office functions," PAC said.

"It is likely more forces will make use of outsourcing arrangements in order to meet future savings requirements, but the department only has limited oversight within the accountability system of such arrangements. 

"We are very concerned that we and government should be able to properly hold private companies to account for their performance, and we welcome the department’s assurance that oversight arrangements will be examined in the new policing Bill due this year."

Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales – which represents some rank and file officers – said the committee's analysis showed the Home Office's approach to policing was based on "wishful thinking".

"The report confirms what we have said, that current government policing policy is based on wishful thinking, and not based on any real data or proper evidence for the direction being taken and the cuts being made," he said.

Responding to the committee's findings, policing minister Mike Penning stressed that the department had sought to protect frontline services and pointed to the latest crime survey statistics showing a continued fall in crime.

"However, if we want policing in this country to be the best it can be, then we must reform further, and that includes putting police funding on a long-term, sustainable footing," Penning added.

"That is why we have consulted on plans to reform the allocation of central government funding to police forces in England and Wales, ensuring it is fair, robust and transparent. We are currently considering the responses. The government will consider the public accounts committee’s report and respond to it formally in due course."

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