Tony Hogg sets out the case for fair funding for Policing in Devon and Cornwall
I spend much of my time talking to the public and consistently they tell me that they are concerned by the lack of visible presence from the police.
Nearly every conversation that I have with police officers and police staff returns to the loss of resources; meaning that the thin blue line is getting thinner. Yet I am also conscious that when I visit major cities of the UK police presence is much more evident. Just stand on any major street in central London, or indeed in Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds, and I am certain that you will see visible policing within a matter of minutes. I just couldn’t work this out – Devon and Cornwall is an efficient police force so why are we so different down here? One of the key answers to my rhetorical question lies in the Home Office “funding formula” for policing.
I won’t bore you with the experts’ definition but the short and clearest description of the formula used to allocate government money to police forces is that it is opaque, wrongheaded and it disadvantages forces like Devon and Cornwall in a range of damaging ways.
For example, the funding formula provides extra money for those forces that have daily visitors or commuters entering and leaving their area. This is great for the Metropolitan Police as they get additional money for the 1.2m daily commuters. This is true for all the major cities. In Devon and Cornwall we get 50 million day visits a year equating to an average of 14,000 per day. However, we also welcome 10 million staying visitors every year. Our resident population swells by up to 20% in the summer months, the equivalent of a second Plymouth (and some) and yet the funding formula provides no extra money for policing.
Don't get me wrong, these visitors are most welcome to come and share our beautiful counties: they are vital to our economy; but it is nonsense to suggest that people on holiday do not place an additional burden on our policing services. Whether that is through young people coming to places like Newquay or families visiting the Eden Project, historic sites and our lovely beaches, coastal and market towns, demand on the thin blue line, already high as a result of the changing nature of crime, is overstretched. We have stacks of data that show how much traffic, crime and other incidents increase during these times but no account is taken of that in how our police are funded.
The formula makes little or no concession that policing a rural community with greater distances to travel will cost more than policing a densely populated urban location. In fact, the logic of the funding appears to be that crime should just happen less. Well, disturbing as it is to report, Devon and Cornwall still has high levels of difficult crime types such as violence including serious violence. Our levels of reported sexual assaults and domestic abuse are also high but the funding formula takes little account of this actual crime level and thus the resources are not provided to investigate and prevent it.
The real scandal of the funding formula is that the national policing budget is neither Government money nor Home Office money. It is your money raised through your taxes. So Devon and Cornwall taxpayers end up paying twice.
Policing is funded through two sources. The first is via general taxation calculated through the funding formula and delivered through the Home Office. The second is raised by me through your council tax precept. In Devon and Cornwall even though your level of precept (as a percentage of the total cost of policing) is below the national average, you pay 39% of the total cost of your local force costs. The average for the rest of the country is that local taxpayers pay 32% of their local force costs. In Merseyside, local council tax only pays for 17% of the local force cost. If Devon and Cornwall were to be funded at the average level then we would receive a further £12m per annum (or another 230 police officers). These figures most clearly demonstrate that the funding formula is biased towards metropolitan and against rural areas.
The Home Office is currently reviewing the funding formula and it is time to make the voice of the South West heard. London based civil servants need to understand the anger of the local population that receives less money for its policing and other important public services from government. In times of plenty, this bias is not as keenly felt but in times of austerity it is vital that we receive our fair share. I am delighted to be partnering with the Western Morning News in this campaign to achieve fair funding. Over the coming weeks, the Western Morning News and my office will be keeping you up to date with how the campaign is doing and letting you know how you can help.
I trust that I can count on your support to ensure that the people of Devon and Cornwall receive their fair share of funding for their local police force.