The Home Office has been forced to delay its plans for an overhaul of the way funding is allocated to police forces in England and Wales after a statistical error was discovered in the department's calculations.
Earlier this year, ministers announced plans to reform the “complex, opaque and out of date” Police Allocation Formula, which distributes cash between 43 forces.
The new funding model was set to allocate government grant funding to police and crime commissioners based on local population levels and demographics, as well as the environmental characteristics of police force areas.
Police chiefs "threaten legal action" against Home Office
MPs question Home Office's oversight of police funding
Home Office lacks information on impact of police funding cuts, says spending watchdog
The benefits and challenges of harnessing data
But the department's plans came under fire from some PCCs – including those representing Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall, Merseyside, and Cumbria – who questioned the Home Office's figures, and warned that their areas were set to lose out under the proposals.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons on Monday, policing minister Mike Penning conceded that the government had made a mistake with its figures – but vowed to press on with the wider reforms.
"I am sad to say that during this process a statistical error was made in the data used," he told MPs.
"The data do not change the principles consulted on and the allocation provided to the forces was never indicative, but we recognise that this has caused great concern to police forces around the country.
"I and the government regret the mistake, and I apologise to the house and to the 43 authorities I wrote to during the extended consultation period as part of the funding formula review."
Penning said the government was now "minded to delay" the reforms, which were due to take effect from 2016-17.
He added: "It is essential that we come to a funding formula that is not only fair, transparent and matched by demand, but supported by the police.
"I have listened throughout the consultation, and the government will continue to do so in considering the next steps, in conjunction with police leaders. I will update the House in due course.
"We should all support the reform of the police funding formula. Police forces and Committees of the House have been calling for it for years. We will bring it forward, but we are delaying the process at the present time."
Keith Vaz – chair of the home affairs select committee which scrutinises the Home Office's work – said that while police funding reform "desperately needed to be addressed", his commitee had received "damning" evidence on the process.
"This entire process has been described by police and crime commissioners and others as unfair, unjust and fundamentally flawed," Vaz said.
"What started off with good intentions is rapidly descending into farce. To call it a shambles would be charitable. There is now a very real prospect of a number of forces planning to take the government to court."