Ministers ‘haven’t got a clue’ if police cuts are posing a risk to the public, Labour said today.
It comes as a damning report warned the Home Office’s approach to funding cuts was already leaving forces struggling.
And the department’s ‘light touch’ approach to budget oversight means it “does not know if the police system is financially sustainable.”
The National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the government for applying cuts equally across the country, failing to account for different pressures on individual forces, and the ability of forces to raise funds locally through council tax.
Total police funding across the country has dropped by 19% in real terms since 2010-11.
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But funding reductions ranged from 25% in Northumbria to 11% in Surrey, with those most reliant on central government funding experiencing the largest cuts.
In 2018-19 the Department allowed police and crime commissioners to raise council tax contributions so that their total funding was the same as it was in 2017-18 in real terms, increasing total funding by £280 million.
The report found early signs that funding cuts were impacting on the level of service being provided by forces – including a drop in breathalyser tests, convictions for drugs trafficking and possession.
It now takes on average four days longer to charge an offence as it did in 2016.
And the proportion of crimes which resulted in a charge or summons fell by six percentage points, from 15% in March 2015 to 9% in March 2018.
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Planned improvements to the way the Home Office allocates funding have been put on hold until the next Spending Review, meaning changes won’t take effect until at least 2020.
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said today: “The financial sustainability of police forces and their ability to deliver effective services is reliant on the Home Office understanding national and local demands and allocating funds fairly.
“There are signs that forces are already experiencing financial strain and struggling to deliver effective services to the public. If the Home Office does not understand what is going on it will not be able to direct resources to where they are needed, with the risk that the situation could get worse.”
Shadow Policing and Crime Minister Louise Haigh said: "As violent crime surges and police resources are stretched to the limit, the Home Office has been relying on guesswork. Ministers haven’t got a clue whether or not forces are financially sustainable, if they are meeting their demands effectively or what the risk is to the public.
"The Tories have long claimed that the police have the resources they need, but today’s report reveals that the Conservatives have been making this up all along. It is symptomatic of the utter contempt the Government has shown for the safety and security of the public throughout."
And Yvette Cooper, who chairs Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee branded the Government’s approach “irresponsible.”
She said: “This is a damning report from the National Audit Office at a time when police forces have had substantial cuts to their budgets and police numbers, and when patterns of crime are changing and demand is going up.
“It’s incredible that the Home Office has so little understanding of what forces need to meet local and national demand.
“This is an irresponsible approach from the Home Office and they need to deal with this report immediately”.
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