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Pay rises will leave forces at risk of continuing budget deficit, warns chief

Self-assessment for future has to be achieved in face of £11.7m cuts
Published - 31/08/2018 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

Pressures from the lifting of the long-running public sector pay cap will leave forces battling to meet major demands on the service as policing gets to grips with a new ‘self-assessment’ strategy.

The constant drive to deliver millions of pounds of spending reductions through efficiencies are set to leave annual police budgets with a “continuing” permanent shortfall, a chief has warned.

Chief Constable Martin Jelley fears the ongoing financial deficit affecting his Warwickshire force and neighbouring West Mercia, which have an established alliance, “mainly arises” from the increase in pay costs.

He says he fully supports officers and staff being given a pay rise but says without it being funded it leaves the force in a very difficult financial position.

His comments echo a warning raised by Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe a year ago that salary rises for officers were potentially unsustainable under the current system

The PCC said the government’s decision last September to give officers a one per cent increase plus a one-off one per cent bonus for 2017-18 – with the extra money having to come from existing local police budgets – would cost Warwickshire Police £500,000 in the first year alone, which was equal to the salary of 12 officers.

Mr Seccombe argued that after a seven-year hiatus the decision to award additional pay would have an “inevitable impact on policing budgets locally, which have been planned on the basis of the one per cent budget cap being in place”.

Like many PCCs he said at the time that more a “sustainable, longer-term solution” was needed to guarantee fair funding for all police forces into the future, although the Government countered that forces have over £1.8 billion in reserve.

This year, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services has introduced a new requirement for all forces to produce a Force Management Statement – an over-arching self-assessment prepared by every chief constable outlining the major demands on the service for the coming years.

The Warwickshire force’s report on how it will “change and improve its workforce and other assets” to cope with that demand focused on protecting vulnerable people, responding more effectively to calls and increasing crime prevention.

The newly published report offers proposals to deal with the likely increase in incidents relating to vulnerable people; improve its ageing call-handling system to give the right service to callers more often; as well as focusing more attention on neighbourhood policing.

But the FMS document also highlighted the fact that the force needs to cut £11.7 million from its budget over the next four years, amounting to a relentless pressure to find savings.

In the statement, Mr Jelley commented: "Although plans are in place to meet the savings required, the alliance will continue to have an annual budget deficit mainly arising from the continued increase in pay costs.

"This means there is a constant drive to deliver reductions in spend through efficiencies, better value for money, different ways of working and prioritisation of changing demands."

Responding to the public in a more efficient way is one of the bigger challenges the force says it faces, especially as recorded calls have been increasing year on year

An Incident Progression Team was formed in April for assessing and responding to calls, aimed at resolutions over the phone where possible.

Warwickshire Police said this has meant officers are only sent to the more serious incidents instead of minor or unsolvable crimes.

The statement continues: "We are equipping our officers and staff with the information and technology needed to work more efficiently and offer the ‘right service first time’.

"It will be easier and more convenient for the public to interact with us, ensuring they can be kept updated on developments in a way that meets their needs."

The force also plans to use Safer Neighbourhood Teams as a force for preventing crime in their patches, describing them as the “bedrock” of policing services in Warwickshire.

It adds: "SNTs will aim for prevention rather than cure by taking a problem solving approach and early preventative action in response to the community’s needs."

And officers have been told to be “professionally curious” and “look past the obvious” when it comes to identifying and protecting vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic violence.

The force believes dealing with the increase in demand for helping vulnerable people will be “challenging” in the face of the cuts, and it says its resources are 'unlikely' to match the demand.

The statement says the force will have to use risk-based allocation to cope. However, it also says a “vulnerability action plan” is in place to try and identify and help vulnerable people earlier.

Warwickshire Police has also said it will look at improving how it passes on evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, after recent high-profile cases of rape trials collapsing.

The statement says: "Effective disclosure is vital in delivering fair, impartial, and transparent justice outcomes. It is also critical to ensuring that the public, and our partners, have clear trust and confidence in the police."

West Mercia and Warwickshire are second and third respectively in a recently-published Sunday Times ‘bottom 10’ table of vanishing bobbies on the beat.

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