A police chief constable said today that the cost of potential legal action against the Government over controversial funding reform plans would be “worth paying” because of the amount his force stands to lose.
Lancashire Police chief constable Steve Finnigan told MPs that his force stood to lose £24.5 million in funding a year as part of revised plans to the formula used to allocate central government police grants.
The county’s police and crime commissioner was one of six around the country, including North Yorkshire crime tsar Julia Mulligan, who wrote to the Home Office asking officials to look again at the new criteria for funding.
As revealed by The Yorkshire Post on Monday, they have described the changes to the way funding is handed out as “flawed” and are threatening legal action if officials do not listen to their concerns.
In total, 11 forces would lose out on funding under the new arrangements, while four, including Humberside Police, would be unaffected and the remainder would see increases if overall levels of funding remain the same as last year.
Mr Finnigan, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the proposed cut to his core funding came on top of a further expected fall of up to £77 million in the next four years as part of the comprehensive spending review later this month.
He said he expected his workforce to drop from a total of 6,120 officers and staff in 2010 to 2,853 as a result of these cuts, a 53 per cent cut in the number of people employed.
Under questioning, Mr Finnigan said the level of reserves held by his force had risen in recent years, but that £37 million of the £49 million total was already earmarked for projects including new technology for his officers.
When asked how much the proposed legal action against the Government would cost, he said he had spoken to crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw but that he did not know what figure had been agreed.
He said: “I am sure that will be a last resort but one he would certainly think would be worth paying for because of the cost of the £24.5 million he could be paying.”
Later, Mr Finnigan said the level of cuts affecting local police forces meant that in the future “people in Lancashire would not be as safe as they are now”.
When asked by committee chairman Keith Vaz whether police forces mergers were possible, he said: “I think there ought to be something different to the 43 forces, I wouldn’t start with that.
“I actually think there should be a smaller number of strategic forces, what size they would be would be an interesting discussion.”
He added: “I don’t think there is any political appetite for that at the moment.”
Later in the hearing, Tony Hogg, Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner, who also signed the letter to the Home Office, said he believed there were “process failures” in the consultation carried out by the Government that “might be things we could establish in law”.
It is understood the affected crime commissioners are taking legal advice over the funding reforms and would consider applying for a judicial review if the Government did not listen to their concerns.
Mr Hogg said: “We are not at any stage more than taking legal advice to explore whether that might be a reasonable thing to do.”
The six police and crime commissioners have been joined by Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, in urging the Government to delay a decision on force budgets expected in this month’s spending review.
In a letter to policing minister Mike Penning, the group said changes to the police funding formula would result in cuts that are “unfair, unjustified and deeply flawed”.
North Yorkshire crime commissioner Julia Mulligan said the changes would mean her force loses a further £16 million on top of the £20 million it has to lose over four years.
Mr Penning said the current model for allocating police funding is “complex, opaque and out of date”.
He said: “Police reform is working and crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.
“But if we want policing in this country to be the best it can be, then we must reform further, and that includes putting police on a long-term, sustainable footing.”
Chancellor George Osborne has asked ministers in non-protected departments - such as the Home Office - to come up with reductions in their budgets of between 25% and 40% by 2019/20 ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on November 25, when the Government’s plans for the next four years will be set out.