Page last updated at 06:13 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The thin blue line's cash crisis

By Paul Burnell
BBC File on 4

Chief Superintendent Andy Hough faces a tough call as he ponders operations against suspected drugs dealers - can he afford his officers kicking down doors in a raid?

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ACPO believes 16 out of 43 forces lose out in the funding formula

Like other forces, Derbyshire has to pay for damage caused during raids.

"I know that by the end of this financial year with boarding up, with removal and storage of exhibits my budget is going to be overspent by £50,000," he told File on 4.

"It gets to the stage where you have to start saying to yourself, 'unless we reduce these costs... we might have to think twice around which warrants we do and which ones we don't.'"

He added: "I've go to find some way of funding it and I can't keep going over budget."

Force under pressure

Ch Supt Hough's problem arises because Derbyshire police says it has been short-changed by the government's funding formula. Millions of pounds down on what it claims it should receive, the force is having to rob one budget to fund another.

A special squad of 12 officers, called Operation Redshank was set up to tackle armed drugs gangs in Derby but is frequently redeployed for other major incidents such as a recent murder in Cromford.

Listen to File on 4, BBC Radio 4 2000 GMT, Tuesday 10 November 2009, repeated 1700, Sunday 15 November 2009.
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"It leaves us very stretched especially when there is a major incident, most of the office gets taken onto those duties leaving no staff for day to day intelligence gathering," Det Con Phil Insley told File on 4.

When Redshank could not tackle all the drug dealing which funds the gangs, Ch Supt Hough put together a local drugs squad to take up the slack but this had to be supplemented by officers who would usually be on other duties such as neighbourhood policing.

Chief Constable Mick Creedon and his senior staff say they are constantly having to juggle resources and it is putting a big strain on the force.

"Until recently our domestic violence staff were working at three times the national recommended workload," said Mr Creedon, adding that it was hard to find the resources to cope with cyber investigations needed for high-tech crime or tracking paedophiles.

The Chief Constable has no doubt that the government's funding formula is the main reason for his force's financial problems.

Derbyshire should have £5m more a year in its coffers. "We're now into the fifth year of the funding formula and where we used to lose about £6-6.5m a year, we're now losing between £4-5m a year."

He blames the delay in implementing the full funding because other forces would lose out.

Postcode policing

The funding formula for the 43 police forces in England and Wales was revised five years ago and it is based on a series of complex calculations which tries to match needs with resources but some analysts say it is a difficult balancing act especially as the net result creates winners and losers among the forces.

Julie Spence (right)
Policing should not be a postcode lottery
Julie Spence (right), chief constable Cambridgeshire Police

Julie Spence, the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police told File on 4 the formula has failed to keep pace with demographic changes in places such as her county, which has seen a huge influx of Eastern European workers since the enlargement of the European Union.

"All I am asking for is an equitable share because it is not right for the people of Cambridgeshire that they should be getting a lesser service than the forces we are being compared with.

"Wherever you are in the country there is an expectation that there should be a similar level of policing - it should not be a postcode lottery," she said.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) says up to 16 forces are struggling because of the funding formula.

Looming cuts

Policing Minister David Hanson conceded: "The formula has had its critics, we've agreed to review it.

"In the next 12 months people will have an opportunity to make their comments and we've committed for funding now at record levels right through to 2011."

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Derbyshire Police have to count the cost of drugs raids

But he added: "I have to say to chief constables this is the deal at the moment, there may be challenges and difficulties within it, but this is the deal."

Meanwhile chief constables are bracing themselves for bigger challenges with cuts in the next spending round.

ACPO's President Sir Hugh Orde told File on 4: "I can confidently predict cuts in police budgets of 10 to 20% over the next few years."

Mergers plea

He believes forces could be more efficient by amalgamating tasks across areas and ultimately by reducing the number of forces across England and Wales.

But the funding formula is an obstacle, according to Sir Hugh: "Some forces are better funded than others so if you are looking at an amalgamation between a rich force and a less rich force all sorts of politics predictably play in that world."

He said firm central leadership is needed to iron out such issues but he added: "I do not detect any political will to deliver this in the foreseeable future."

David Hanson says a new white paper will float the idea of amalgamations but they would be voluntary rather than the compulsory plans the government proposed three years ago. Our political will is to allow local people to determine what they want to do because the political difficulty we had three years ago was that there was centralisation and local people kicked against it."

File on 4 is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 10 November, at 2000 GMT, repeated Sunday, 15 November, at 1700. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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