Policing chiefs from the forces hit hardest by government cuts are calling on the Home Office to take action in the wake of a damning report.
The comments from two Police and Crime Commissioners (PPCs) came as a study by the National Audit Office (NAO) found funding for the police has been cut by 19 percent since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power.
Northumbria and the West Midlands are the two worst affected areas in England and Wales and their PCCs said they were not surprised by the findings, having been warning the Home Office about the problem “for years”.
David Jamieson, West Midlands PCC, said the NAO’s report was “one of the most damning reports” he had ever read, while Dame Vera Baird QC, PCC for Northumbria, said it showed that the government needs to “stop dithering on police funding”.
As budget cuts have continued nationally, police forces have struggled to maintain an effective service, the report found. The NAO said the number of police employees had dropped from 244,497 in 2010 to 199,752.
The report showed that some areas of the country fare worse than others. The discrepancies between forces are because some depend more on funding from central government, while others are able to raise more from a precept added to their local council tax bills.
Those forces that rely more on Home Office grants are affected more by central government cuts.
The report shows that Northumbria tops both the list of police forces most reliant on government funding, as well as the force suffering the biggest cuts of any in the country.
Funding for Northumbria Police has been cut by 25 percent in real terms – after inflation is taken into account – since 2010, the National Audit Office said.
In comparison, Surrey Police suffered the smallest cut, losing 11 percent of its funding.
Baird said she had called on Theresa May to “sort police funding” when she was Home Secretary.
She said the PM’s successors at the Home Office have said they want an open and transparent funding formula – but have failed to deliver it – and urged current Home Secretary Sajid Javid to take action.
Baird added: “The National Audit Office report clearly shows that the government cuts are hitting Northumbria hardest – something I have said for many years but the government have refused to accept.
“How can it be right when the National Audit Office state that our force budget has been cut by 25 percent since 2010, yet leafy Surrey has only had to endure an 11 percent cut and because of my commitment to maintain neighbourhood policing, I have had to use reserves and that has caused us to have one of the lowest levels in the country.
“The National Audit Office report reinforces what Labour PCCs have been telling government. The Home Secretary now needs to stop dithering on police funding and take decisive action to give Northumbria the fair funding formula it deserves.
“The Home Secretary must not move the cost of policing from government to council tax payers – if he tries that, I will tackle him every step of the way.”
The West Midlands comes in second both in terms of funding reliance and impact of cuts. It’s a region which has also seen a huge rise in violent crime, which has jumped by 59 per cent up to 57,712 in the last three years.
In the same timeframe, there has been six percent fall in front line officers – part of a downward trend that started in 2010, when there were 8,626 officers. There are now 6,756 officers.
Jamieson said it showed “the government are in denial” over the impact of budget cutbacks.
He added: “The independent National Audit Office have now confirmed that urban forces like West Midlands Police are being hit more than twice as hard as the likes of leafy Surrey.
“This confirms what we have known for a long time. High demand areas like the West Midlands have had their budgets disproportionately cut compared to low crime areas.
“This is a damning indictment of the government’s disastrous handling of police funding. The Home Office need to read this report thoroughly and change course.
“Instead of spouting out pre-rehearsed excuses, they should be honest with the public.”
He added that the government needed to either increase funding for forces or “be honest with the public over what they can now expect of police forces”.
The NAO accused the Home Office of not fully knowing the impact its cuts were having and whether the police system in England and Wales is “financially sustainable”.
In its report, it called the Home Office’s approach to police funding “ineffective” and “detached” from the changing demands faced by officers.
Last week, three police officers told HuffPost UK that cuts had left them having to apologise to victims of crime who they felt had been let down.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our decision to empower locally-accountable Police and Crime Commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean that we do not understand the demands on police forces.
“In addition, the report does not recognise the strengths of PCCs and Chief Constables leading on day to day policing matters, including on financial sustainability.
“We remain committed to working closely with police and delivered a £460m increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax.
“We are also working with the police to put forward the evidence to ensure they receive the resources they need to do their vital work at the next Spending Review.”