“Police are struggling to deliver an effective service after big cuts in government funding and a fall of more than 20,000 officers over the past eight years, a spending watchdog has said.
The percentage of crimes resulting in a charge or summons has fallen by six points to only 9 per cent over the past three years and there has been a fall in the number of arrests as a proportion of the population.
Police forces in England and Wales are also carrying out less proactive work, with fewer breathalyser tests and a fall in the number of recorded drug trafficking and drug possession crimes.
A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) to be released today says that the Home Office’s “light touch” approach to policing means that it does not know if the police system is financially sustainable. It criticises the Home Office for having no overarching strategy for policing in England and Wales and says the way it has funded forces has been ineffective and detached from the changing nature of the fight against crime.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “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.”
Central government funding to police in England and Wales has fallen by 30 per cent in real terms since 2010-11 to £7.7 billion in 2018-19.
Police forces have responded to the cuts by reducing their manpower, with the number of officers falling from 143,734 in March 2010 to 122,404 last March, the report said.
Police community support officer numbers fell by 40 per cent from 16,918 to 10,139 between 2010 and 2018 and police staff numbers fell from 79,596 to 62,820. The total amount of reserves held by forces has fallen from £2.1 billion in 2015 to £1.7 billion last March.
The time it took to charge a person accused of an offence has risen from 14 days in the year to March 2016 to 18 days in the year to last March and the proportion of crimes that resulted in a charge has fallen from 15 per cent in March 2015 to 9 per cent in March this year, the report says. It adds that the arrest rate has fallen from 17 per 1,000 people in 2014-15 to 14 per 1,000 in 2016-17. “We have found some indication that the sector as a whole is finding it increasingly difficult to deliver an effective service,” the report says.
Last week figures showed that hundreds of thousands of domestic burglaries, vehicle thefts and shoplifting cases are closed without a suspect being identified. An internal Home Office report last November concluded that the police were facing increased pressure in meeting demand for their services, fuelled partially by the terrorist threat and a rise in sexual offences, which are more costly to investigate.
The Home Office said: “Our decision to empower locally accountable police and crime commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean we do not understand the demands on forces. The report does not recognise the strengths of PCCs and chief constables leading on day-to-day policing matters, including on financial sustainability.”
Louise Haigh, the shadow policing minister, said: “As violent crime surges and police resources are stretched to the limit, the Home Office has been relying on guesswork.”
Source: Times (pay wall)