Police forces are meeting the challenge of austerity

Police forces in England and Wales have met the financial challenge of the spending review – crime continues to fall, victim satisfaction is up, and forces are protecting their front line services as best they can, an HMIC report found today.

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Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge

HMIC has tracked police forces’ response to budget cuts since summer 2011, using force data and inspection to analyse how they are making savings, and how this is affecting their workforce and the service they provide to their communities.

The fourth report in this series – ‘Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge’ – found that forces in England and Wales have plans to save over £2.5 billion over the last four years.

Thirty-five out of 43 forces were judged as having a ‘good’ response and five were judged to be ‘outstanding’. Only three forces required improvement and no forces were judged as ‘inadequate’.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said:

“Police forces in England and Wales are to be congratulated. The vast majority have risen to and met the considerable challenge of austerity, with plans in place to save over £2.5 billion over the last four years – while protecting the front line as best they can and making sure that the public still receive an effective service.

“Five forces have been judged by HMIC to be outstanding in their performance and just three forces require improvement. The rest are good. We recognise fully the hard work of police officers, PCSOs and staff which underpins this success.

“It is not easy to provide the high quality police service that the public rightly demands, with far less money. Police forces estimate that more than three in every 20 jobs in policing will have been lost over this period of austerity. Forces have had to change how they do their business – the best of them understand their demand in a sophisticated way and target their resources well, work with local public sector organisations to reduce crime, and collaborate with others to reduce costs. However, as budgets continue to tighten, savings become harder to realise. HMIC is calling for a change in the way policing is organised and funded, so that as further substantial cost reductions are made, the police continue to keep the public safe.”

Those forces that require improvement must reconsider their plans urgently and HMIC will re-inspect these forces later in the year.

The report found the police workforce is projected to be reduced by over 34,000 people by March 2015, but that forces have worked hard to protect their front line crime-fighting capacity. For instance while there are plans for 8,500 fewer frontline police officers by March 2015 – a reduction of seven percent from March 2010 – the proportion of police officers in frontline roles is expected to increase from 89% to 92%.

Despite the hard work by forces to protect their front line, HMIC has continued concerns about the erosion of neighbourhood policing as the remit of police officers in these roles expands. Some officers are spending more time away from their neighbourhood beats because they have more crime investigation work to do. This means they may have less time for crime prevention work, which is crucial to the success of the police’s principal purpose – protecting the public. Forces also plan to reduce their PCSOs by significantly more than last year and there are indications that the public are seeing fewer officers in their communities.

The era of austerity is on-going: forces should be planning on the basis that the same level of savings will be required in the next spending review period. As budgets continue to tighten, the opportunities for further savings will be fewer and savings will be more difficult to achieve. Continuing to administer substantial cost reductions in the same way is not an option – it is likely to place the viability of some forces in jeopardy in the next three to five years. More savings can be achieved by the police service – but in order for forces to maintain the service they provide to the public, reform is required in the way the police service is organised and funded.

The time is now right for a constructive debate in relation to how policing should be reformed, with careful consideration given to which policing services are best performed locally, regionally or nationally. HMIC will convene this debate and will report publicly on the range of options for a national blueprint for future policing in austerity by June 2015.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, said:

“Our findings this year make it clear that police forces have had considerable success in achieving the required savings over the last four years, but that there are still more efficiencies that forces could achieve through greater measures of collaboration between forces and with the private sector and other parts of the public sector. It was disappointing to find that progress in achieving savings in this way remains patchy and slow with a few notable exceptions.

“As it is likely that the same level of savings are will be required in the next spending review period, there needs to be a constructive debate in relation to how further reforms to the operation and efficiency of the police may be made so as to ensure that public protection is maintained to the highest practicable extent.

“As far as is reasonably practical, the police must continue to serve the public efficiently and effectively in the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour, the maintenance and restoration of order and the apprehension and successful prosecution of offenders.”

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Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge


  1. The five forces which were found to be ‘outstanding’ were:
    • Avon and Somerset;
    • Norfolk;
    • Lancashire;
    • Staffordshire; and
    • West Midlands.
  2. The three forces which were found to be in the ‘requires improvement’ category were:
    • Bedfordshire;
    • Gwent; and
    • Nottinghamshire.
  3. A copy of the full report can be found at /programmes/value-for-money/policing-in-austerity-meeting-the-challenge/
  4. Forces have in place plans to save over £2.4 billion and an additional £107 million will be taken from reserves by the end of the spending review.
  5. National blueprint for policing in austerity: the group established in respect of the debate to be convened by HMIC will have wide membership. Invited members will include the College of Policing, police and crime commissioners, chief constables, bodies representative of police officers and police staff, national and local government, experts in the financing of policing and academics and organisations in fields relevant to crime prevention and the criminal justice system.
  6. Forces were given a four-year settlement in October 2010 which equated to a 20 percent reduction in central government grant over the spending review period.
  7. HMIC collected data and savings plans from the 43 Home Office-funded forces in England and Wales; surveyed the public to find out if they had noticed any changes in the service they receive from the police as a result of the cuts, and conducted in-force inspections, interviewed the chief constable, police and crime commissioner and the chief officer leads for finance, change, human resources and performance management
  8. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies.
  9. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8.30am – 5.30pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  10. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.