Cuts ‘may lead to police mergers’

By Alex Stevenson

The Home Office may have to consider authorising the merger of police authorities in a bid to cope with future spending cuts, MPs have warned.

The Commons’ home affairs committee’s report on police service strength says that prioritising the frontline may require radical reforms in backroom functions.

It identifies the need for local police authorities to have the discretion to raise funds and criticises the way police forces receive a national grant at present.

“We are pleased with the commitment we have seen from police forces to maintaining the visible front line service that is so important to the public,” committee chairman Keith Vaz commented.

“However, there is only so much forces can do cutting backroom services and other parts of their budget, especially when they are being hamstrung by uncertain funding.”

The report suggests police need more support across the board from the government “to find new ways of maximising service levels and efficiency”.

The government points out that officer numbers are at an all-time high, partly a result of funding increasing by a fifth in real terms since 1997.

But the home affairs committee says the number of police staff employed varies significantly across the 13 forces and that after 2011 the picture becomes unclear.

“We are pleased the committee recognises the small number of forces where officers have gone down have seen big increases in the number of civilian staff – freeing officers from bureaucracy and paper work to concentrate on fighting crime,” policing minister David Hanson said.

“But we must ensure we get value for money and that is why we set out savings opportunities for the police service in the white paper. By working smarter and working together forces can deliver even more for the money they receive.”

The Association of Chief Police Officers said the service had already achieved significant reductions in crime and disorder despite increased demands on police.

Its lead on workforce development, Chief Constable Peter Fahy, said: “The numbers of police officers will always be of concern to the public but the public also wants to see that police forces are using the money given to them as efficiently as possible by ensuring that officers are freed up from administrative tasks which keep them off the streets.”