How much is police funding?
The total police funding settlement for England and Wales in 2022/2023 was £16.9 billion.
England and Wales does not have a single national police force, but rather a series of 43 forces, loosely based on a county structure.
This reflects the origins of the modern police in the 1800s, when responsibility for civil order rested with local magistrates. Following the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829, paid for byf a ‘Police Rate’ levy on people living within its area, the next 30 years saw Borough Councils and County Magistrates copy London’s example.
Although Chief Constables remain responsible for operational matters, Police Authorities traditionally had principal responsibility for police funding and oversight.
However, the Coalition government decided that from November 2012, Police Authorities should be abolished and replaced with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act passed in September 2011 provided for Police Authorities to be replaced with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. The new Commissioners have responsibility for setting the policing budget and for deciding how much to raise from local council tax for the police.
Figures by the website Knoema have attempted to estimate government spending on public order and safety worldwide as a proportion of a country’s GDP.
In 2016, they estimated that the associated expenditure in the United Kingdom amounted to 1.83% of GDP in the UK. This was above the 1.7% spent by Australia, 1.63% by France, 1.55% by Germany, and the 1.24% spend by Japan. It was below the law enforcement levels of 2.03% in America and 1.9% in the Netherlands.
The UK was placed 29th in the international list for spending on public order and safety as a proportion of GDP. In first place on the list was Afghanistan at 8.9%. The United Arab Emirates, South Africa, and Ukraine were all in the top six, each spending between 3% and 3.6% of GDP on public order and security.
How does the current system of police funding work
Under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act of 2011, Police and Crime Commissioners are responsible for setting the local police budget and deciding if any further funds needs to be raised from an additional tax charge (precept) on local council tax payers.
Around two-thirds of funding for Police and Crime Commissioners comes directly from Government grants, with around a third coming from a share of the local council tax (the police precept). In 2021/22, Police and Crime Commissioners in England were given the flexibility to increase local funding by setting a £15 precept limit for a typical Band D property.
In 2022/23 it was expected that up to an additional £246 million would be raised towards policing by the council tax precept set by local Police and Crime Commissioners.
Police Crime Commissioners must consult their local electorate on setting their precept and explain how any additional investment will deliver a better local police service. This normally takes the form of a local survey, in which locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners lay out their plans, traditionally accompanied by the message that the burden of raising extra funding for the police has been placed on them by central government.
In 2021, the government claimed that if all Police and Crime Commissioners took full advantage of this flexibility, it would raise up to an additional £288 million for local forces.
Early 2020s – Police Funding
In December 2020, the Home Office published the provisional police funding settlement for 2021/22.
This detailed a total police funding settlement of up to £15.8 billion for the policing system in 2021/22. This includes funding to Police and Crime Commissioners (including capital funding), plus resources for counter-terrorism policing and funding for national priorities.
This funding settlement saw an increase of up to £636 million compared to the 2020/21 funding settlement. This was primarily focused on an additional £415 million of government funding to Police and Crime Commissioners to drive the recruitment of extra police officers.
The Government has been committed to delivering an additional 20,000 officers by March 2023.
Recent history of police funding
Police funding is a controversial matter. Police numbers fell during the 1980s and 1990s, as ‘bobbies on the beat’ were replaced with vehicle patrols.
Despite an increase of 15,000 between 2000 and March 2004 to reach a record level of 138,000, people remained convinced that there were fewer visible police officers on the streets deterring criminals.
Addressing police numbers was a difficult matter politically. Police numbers were a matter for Chief Constables, not the Home Secretary, who can only advise. The first part of the Twentieth Century saw a greater reliance on Special Constables and the introduction of Community Support Officers to address the problem, generating concern about a lack of training and experience.
Police Authorities frequently voiced concerns about the Total Standard Spending (TSS) figure produced by the Home Office, claiming that it did not cover increasing costs.
Particularly controversial was the ‘top slicing’ by the Home Office – the allocation of funds from the central grant directly to national schemes, such as the Airwave communications project – and the replacement of general grants with specific grants, ‘ring fenced’ for particular purposes. This sort of complaint, however, is endemic to the centre-local relationship, and is found more widely within local government and the NHS.
The cost of the police pension scheme is another cost for forces, particularly as early retirement is commonplace among police officers and their funded occupational pensions, which increase annually, were seen as a burden on resources.
Cuts in the early 2010s
Cuts to police funding announced in the October 2010 Spending Review as part of the Government’s programme to tackle the huge deficit also attracted considerable controversy. Funding was set to reduce by 20 per cent in real terms by 2014/15 or 14 per cent when council tax precepts were taken into account.
The Treasury claimed that by cutting out costs and scrapping bureaucracy, “hundreds of millions of pounds, and hundreds of thousands of man hours” would be saved, and the funding cuts, therefore, “should not lead to any reduction in police officers visible and available on the streets.”
However, the Association of Chief Police Officers felt the cumulative impact of the cuts would “translate into fewer police officers”, and Labour claimed the cuts would mean “thousands fewer police officers” which would “undermine the fight against crime..and the safety of our communities.”
Further controversy was created by the decision to replace Police Authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. Elections were held on 15 November 2012 in England (excluding London) and Wales, with the new Commissioners taking office on 22 November in 41 police force areas.
Although the Police Authorities had opposed the change, they were commended by HMIC who found authority members were “determined to leave a strong foundation and positive legacy for the incoming Police and Crime Commissioner, with many examples of individuals willingly taking on extra responsibilities to help secure this – even though their tenure with the authority will shortly end.”