Government incompetence leaves our Police in the lurch
To describe the Government’s twists and turns over the way our Police are funded as a shambles would be putting it charitably. That was the message from an emergency statement where the Police Minister was forced to apologise to the House of Commons today.
As far as West Midlands Police is concerned, this has been the sequence of events:
-Over the last five years, West Midlands Police has already faced cuts of £126m. This is disproportionately higher than many other areas because of the unfairness of the funding formula used by the Government to determine who gets what.
-Because of the way the Government operated its own funding formula moreover, the West Midlands was even short changed by £43 million on the Government’s own figures.
Over the summer, it looked like Ministers were planning to hit or region even harder with talk of a new funding formula that could have taken a further £100 million out of our local police budget.
-As soon as Parliament returned in September, therefore I secured a special debate in which West Midlands MPs underlined to ministers the gravity of the situation facing our police. Put bluntly, if the kind of formula being talked about by Ministers over the summer went ahead, the number of police job losses expected would leave the organisation even smaller than when it was formed in forty years ago.
-It was therefore good news when the Government told us that they had listened and had undergone a change of heart. Not only that but they assured us that they were about to put their money where their mouths were. Under a revision to the new funding formula, West Midlands Police were told we would get £36m extra. OK, it did not get us out of the woods financially and it did not compensate for the cuts that had already been made, but at least the Police could plan ahead with a degree of confidence.
Until last Friday…
-On Friday, as a result of a letter sent by the Government – not to West Midlands – but to Devon and Cornwell, it immerged there had been a “statistical error” in the way the Home Office had done their sums. All of a sudden, it now looked like West Midlands Police were going to lose £28m of the £36m extra that Ministers told us we were due to receive only a few weeks ago.
-No surprise then, that the Police Minister was summoned back to the Commons to explain himself today. In fairness, he apologised for the “statistical error” but he then followed it up by saying they were going to go back to the drawing board to make sure he gets the funding formula right going forward.
-So in the meantime? We were told he would continue to operate the existing formula. In other words the one that was so unfair to the West Midlands in the first place. Back to square one. Anybody remember the children’s song about having a “Hole in my Bucket”?
-Except that it could be worse than that. In a couple of weeks’ time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is due to announce the results of his Comprehensive Spending Review. All the indications are that this will mean yet more cuts to the Police – regardless of what the formula used by the Home Office is. With an unfair funding formula though, they are likely to be even worse.
-During the Police Minister’s statement today, I asked him talk to the Chancellor at least ensure that Police services like the West Midlands should at least be protected during the Comprehensive spending Review while he sorts out his new fairer funding formula. As you can see in the video. His response? Nothing.
Confused? You should be. It would all be comical if it wasn’t so serious. But it is serious. Very serious. It is about nothing less than the Police’s ability to keep us safe in our homes and on the roads. People deserve better than this from their Government.