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Why the funding formula is unfair. The full story

Police Allocation Formula (PAF) Challenge


The police allocation formula used to distribute central funding across police forces discriminates against Devon and Cornwall in that it does not recognise some key and unique drivers on demand that are present in the peninsula.   The key issues that impact on service delivery and demand, driving the cost of policing in Devon & Cornwall are the rural nature of much of the force area, the relative vulnerability of the population set in a complex partnership landscape and the impact of large numbers of visitors to the area, especially during the summer months. Any review of the police allocation formula needs to acknowledge these factors.

The formula is constructed by using factors that Home Office experts believe are indicators of crime.  However, there is little evidence to justify this claim and in fact what it appears to do is consistently apply factors that are common in metropolitan areas whilst taking little or no account that are common in more rural areas such as Devon and Cornwall.  

With a focus on expected levels of recorded crime the formula is not representative of either current or future demand on the police service.  For example, the presence of mental health problems is not recognised in the formula and yet we know that a significant proportion of our demand arises from dealing with mental health related issues.  Crime is estimated to comprise approximately 20% of the demand on police, yet crime proxy factors determine the allocation of 60% of funding currently. It also fails to encourage forces to adopt innovative and prevention focused working practices required to meet future funding challenges. 

In addition, the impact of the formula allocation means that local taxpayers meet a higher proportion of the total policing cost than the national average.  In Devon and Cornwall local taxpayers meet 39% of the total cost of running the force whereas the national average is 32%.  Large metropolitan forces benefit from the current arrangements with local taxpayers only meeting 17% of the cost in Merseyside, 22% in greater Manchester and 27% in London.  If Devon and Cornwall were funded to the average level of government grant then Devon and Cornwall would receive an additional £12m per annum – the equivalent of £12 per council taxpayer. 

The Impact of Tourism in Devon & Cornwall 

There are over 10 million staying visits and 50 million day visits to Devon & Cornwall per year. The average visit length is longer in Devon & Cornwall than elsewhere and is longer during the summer months. During the 6 months from April to September there are more than 1 million visitors per month to Devon & Cornwall. At its peak this rises to 1.5 million in July and August.

Estimating the impact of these data on the 1.6m population in Devon & Cornwall suggests that between May and September the population increases by 120,000 rising to 215,000 in July and August - an increase of more than 13%. Factoring in the estimated 130,000 day visitors indicates that the population of Devon & Cornwall swells by between 16% and 21% over the summer months, or an increase in excess of the normal population of Plymouth for six months of the year. Applying this increase to existing officer numbers suggests an extra 480 to 660 officers are required to meet this additional demand.

Other data that support this observation include:

  • Department for transport traffic count data for the South West show an increase of 10% for the months May to August.
  • Police data suggests a 10% rise in reported accidents between May and July.
  • Overall recorded crime increases by 4-6% in May and June and by 10% in July and August. 
  • The monthly average number of incidents recorded over the last 3 years increases by 6-9% in May and June and more than 11% in July and August. 
  • Demand on custody suites increases by 5-7% in July and August. 
  • Police demand analysis indicates that overall demand on policing resources increases by up to 18% between May and August. 

No account is made in the formula for these additional numbers and yet funding is provided for daily visitor numbers which is to the benefit of London and other metropolitan centres that have a daily commuter influx.   It is nonsense to argue that commuters create a bigger policing demand than tourist visitors who are active from morning in to the late evening.  This is not an argument against tourism just that central formulas should recognise the demands that it makes on local services including policing.  


Although the current formula contains a factor that accounts for rurality (population sparcity), academic analysis has indicated that this factor perversely favours metropolitan areas. Put simply, the formula proposes that being rural means you have less crime and therefore require fewer resources to police it.  We would argue that there is little evidence to suggest that real crime figures in rural areas are lower and that the geographic distances to investigate and prevent such crime requires greater resources than it would in a built up area. 

Any future formula should provide a better reflection of the costs associated with tackling crime in sparsely populated, large geographical areas. To take a simplified example violent crime in urban areas can be broken down into a number of sub-categories each of which can be predicted in location time and profile of victim and offender. Violence in the night-time economy for example is largely confined to predictable areas with a vibrant night-life and the times when pubs and bars are open and/or closing. Domestic violence in an urban context also occurs largely in well-defined residential areas is well observed and reported by neighbours or other passers-by and local support mechanisms are accessible to victims. By contrast policing violence within a rural environment is relatively sporadic, unpredictable and presents a much greater challenge. This is evidenced in part by the observation in Devon & Cornwall that although rates of domestic abuse are greater in urban areas, the risk of domestic murder is greater in the rural reaches of the force.

A further challenge to policing in Devon & Cornwall not reflected in the current funding formula is policing the 500 miles of coastline, a factor that is reflected in funding for the fire service. There are more than 300 ports and airports in the force area, as well as informal opportunities to support trafficking, whether of people, drugs, guns or other illicit commodities. In addition the force area now has the capacity to take supercruisers which bring the equivalent of the population of a small town into the force. Policing the extensive coastline requires not just numbers of officers but a high degree of specialism and technical support.


No account is taken of vulnerability within the population in the current formula, yet this places great strain on policing resources. The challenges presented to policing from domestic abuse, child protection and sexual abuse are great and frequently involve victims with complex needs, challenging investigation processes and a high level of police and partner support to bring offenders to justice. 

More difficult to estimate are the potential impacts of emerging crimes such as cyber crime and child sexual exploitation. In Devon & Cornwall there have been examples of on-line fraud targeting the vulnerable elderly, stripping them of their life savings and pensions. This is a population that is over-represented in Devon & Cornwall police area. The true extent of many of these offences remains unknown, however as awareness grows and the police ability to identify offenders increases, the demand on policing will continue to increase. This is particularly the case for child sexual exploitation.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are also increasing. In Devon & Cornwall our extensive coastline and high dependence on a large migrant worker population suggest that this is another growth area for policing in the South West.

Mental health issues are impacting severely on police resources not only in terms of crime offending and victimisation, but also in concern for safety incidents, vulnerable missing persons, suicides and Section 136 detentions (a constable needing to detain a person for their own safety or the safety of the public). The suicide rate in the South West has reliably been either the highest or second highest nationally over the last 5 years.  The most recent figures for Section 136 notices show that Devon and Cornwall had the second highest number in the whole country greater than any of the large metropolitan forces. 

Any future funding formula needs to account for difference among forces in the levels of vulnerability that they are servicing. To this end direct population factors for age (young and old), deprivation and mental health should form part of the basis for the funding formula.

An effective partnership context is vital to mitigating the impact of vulnerability on policing demand. In Devon & Cornwall the partnership landscape is particularly challenging with twelve local authorities, four NHS Care Trusts, two fire services and seven community safety partnerships. The complexity of this partnership landscape presents an additional challenge to delivering effective policing services, supporting victims and preventing crime. 


In Devon & Cornwall a fair funding formula would:

  • Be transparent 
  • Reflect the changing nature of demand on policing.
  • Be relative to the extent of vulnerability in the population.
  • Encourage effective prevention, early intervention and proactive policing.
  • Be supportive of collaboration.
  • Reflect the additional challenges posed by the partnership landscape in Devon & Cornwall.
  • Provide a meaningful adjustment for the additional costs of policing a large and sparsely populated geography.
  • Acknowledge the increased demand on police services resulting from the increase to our population during the summer months.