Open and Transparent Quality Mark 2016/17

Why we must 'make sure that the thin blue line does not get any thinner'

In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez talks about meeting the Home Secretary and the policing budget for Devon and Cornwall Police.

Last week, the Home Secretary spoke to police and crime commissioners and chief constables at their annual summit. She spoke about many issues – including funding and what she expects from those who lead policing in this country. She told PCCs how they need to tell local communities and victims of our plans to make them safer and I am more than confident that my Police and Crime Plan couldn’t be stronger in its commitment to do just that.

How we ensure a safe, resilient and connected community in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is my main focus and I am willing to explore all opportunities to achieve this – and to improve already high levels of public confidence in the force.

The chief constable and I met with Policing Minister Nick Hurd last week to outline that we are a force with few neighbours and surrounded by water – we can’t easily pull in resources from adjoining forces to help when issues develop.

So we presented solutions, going cap in hand to the Government hasn’t been our first thought. Additional funding would undoubtedly allow us to invest more in front line services but before we seek additional funds we must make sure we use our existing resources as efficiently as possible.   

We absolutely recognise our responsibility to lead our way out of these challenging times – that’s why we have a strategic alliance with Dorset and are now investigating the value of a full merger.

No other force has worked so closely with the Home Office to try and get the funding formula for the police grant right – we have provided ministers with significant evidence to explain the burden of demand on forces like ours. Instead of asking for additional funds from the Government Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police have responded by working more closely together – sharing back office and front line specialist services to release savings and improve the quality of service they provide to the public.

The strategic alliance began in 2014 and has already improved delivery, resilience and flexibility, saved money and increased efficiency. A full merger would enhance these benefits and deliver more but we need to explore this properly and seek a wide range of views.

We have and will continue to look at every opportunity to improve our efficiency but further funding is needed as well. Funding for policing in Devon and Cornwall has remained static for eight years - £286m in 2010/11 and £285m this year. We have reduced full-time officers and staff by 1,000 during that time and when you consider all inflationary increases, including pay awards and those caused by increased demand, this equates to savings of £54m since 2011.

The “flat cash” grant settlements, effectively mean that inflation and centrally imposed spending increases – sometimes called top slicing - cut into the base spend. This makes it harder to fund the changes we must make to respond to increased demand, new and emerging crime types and any unexpected events. This is the reason we hold reserves of £60m and why we expect that figure to reduce to £17m within four years.

A good example of this additional spending from reserves is the much needed new custody unit to replace that in Heavitree Road, Exeter. For a number of years Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies has been aware that this facility is inadequate and work is now underway to provide a replacement at Middlemoor. The sale of another piece of land at headquarters will help provide funds for that new build, which is due to open in 2020 – but this will need to be topped-up from reserves.

We also have to now account for the recently announced, and well-deserved, pay award. The Government has declared there is no additional central funding coming for that. Our resources remain very tight. Before this announcement Devon and Cornwall was already budgeting for an annual £10m reduction by 2020/21.

If no further funding is provided by central government in the autumn statement I will face some difficult choices in the forthcoming budget round for 2018/19. Our Force receives £106 per head of population – that’s £4 below the national average which equates to a difference of £7m a year and could increase our frontline strength by 150.

The chief constable and I have done our bit by making savings and finding ways to work more efficiently – as a community we are doing our bit by paying a little more each year through our council tax, now it’s up to the Government to make sure that the thin blue line does not get any thinner in Devon and Cornwall.

What we need is some certainty about future police funding and we cannot get away from the fact that Devon and Cornwall Police does not get a fair share of the police budget. We know we have to be realistic but if we had increased access to resources – just to the national average – the way we police could help communities to be better connected and safer. We could work more closely with partners and in a more consistent manner.

It is vital that future police funding is not just swallowed up by the metropolitan police force areas and by joining forces with Dorset we create a stronger voice in the corridors of power, where we can be champions for local policing and our communities.

Alison Hernandez

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