Yorkshire police force “still faces cuts despite Chancellor’s pledge to protect budgets”

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Yorkshire’s largest police force will face cuts of up to £6 million next year despite a promise by the Chancellor to protect budgets, according to its police and crime commissioner.

Mark Burns-Williamson says West Yorkshire Police’s budget will be reduced by 2.3 per cent in 2016/17 once inflation is taken into account, though this could be offset if its share of council tax is raised by the maximum level.

Chancellor George Osborne has been accused of a “shameful U-turn” after police grants were slashed by more than £200 million just weeks after he promised to protect funding for forces in England and Wales.

Figures from the House of Commons Library show that Government grants to the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales have been cut by 2.7 per cent overall compared to last year - equivalent to 4.1 per cent once inflation is taken into account.

And policing minister Mike Penning told Parliament that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will have to increase council tax levels by the maximum permitted amount if they are to maintain forces’ funding at existing levels.

In his Autumn Statement to the Commons on November 25, Mr Osborne told MPs: “There will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we’re going to protect the police.”

But the provisional police grant allocations for 2016/17, released amid a welter of Government announcements on the last day before the Commons broke for Christmas, showed that all but seven forces are facing a grant cut in cash terms compared to this year.

In a statement, Mr Burns-Williamson said the funding settlement was “a victory for common sense” as police chiefs had been expecting cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent to their budgets.

He had earlier warned in a dossier to local MPs that such drastic cuts were likely to result in a rise in low-level crime and increased demand on under-pressure local health and education services.

He said: “The main point I have been emphasising to Government and many West Yorkshire MPs was the threat to neighbourhood policing and the trust and confidence required and built up over many years.

“To lose those locally embedded police officers and PCSOs would have been a huge step backwards and potentially undermined the fight against serious threats and challenges within our communities.

“This is not a growth budget though, but one that will at least broadly help protect what we have and it will help to repair some of the damage already done.

“We also need to bear in mind the planned changes to the police funding formula sometime next year which could adversely affect the overall funding position for West Yorkshire and something I’ll be watching very closely.

“I will now take time to consider what this budget actually means in reality rather than what is said at the despatch box in Parliament and what options are available to protect and strengthen front line policing if possible.”

Overall, the grants for England and Wales fell from £7,630,719,732 for 2015/16 to £7,421,588,629 for 2016/17.

The lion’s share of the cut related to the Metropolitan Police, which saw a reduction of almost £183 million in its £1.9 billion grant - equating to 9.6 per cent in cash terms or 10.8 per cent once inflation is taken into account.

Other forces facing large grant reductions were South Wales, which lost almost £1.9 million (3.5 per cent in real terms), Gwent, which lost £827,000 (3.3 per cent). West Midlands Police was given a £2.5 million cash cut, or 1.9 per cent after inflation is taken into account.

Announcing the grant allocations to Parliament, Mr Penning said that each force would have the same funding in cash terms in 2016/17 as this year, so long as the amount of cash raised through council tax - known as the “police precept” - was increased to the maximum available.

The settlement was welcomed by Julia Mulligan and Matthew Grove, Conservative PCCs for North Yorkshire and Humberside respectively.

But Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire, whose force will get £189 million in annual funding, said it would mean he would have to raise council tax or bring in further cuts.

He said: “In his statement in November the Chancellor said that the police grant for next year would be the same as this.

“However, we now learn first that the grant is reduced by almost £1m and second that we are expected to raise additional funding by increasing the charge to council tax payers by the maximum permitted.

“This settlement allows nothing for inflation, including increasing demands on the force and pay awards, which will have to be found either by putting up council tax or making further

savings or both.

“Over the coming weeks we shall continue to look for savings while talking to district council leaders and the public about what we can bare locally. Our overall commitment to defend neighbourhood policing will be the top priority.”

Policing Minister Mike Penning said: “This police funding settlement represents a fair deal for the police and reinforces this Government’s commitment to protect the public. No Police and Crime Commissioner will face a reduction in cash funding next year.

“On top of this protection of overall police spending, counter terrorism police funding will increase in real terms to £670m in 2016/17 and transformation funding will be used to develop specialist capabilities to tackle cyber crime and other emerging crimes and to enable a major uplift in firearms capability and capacity.

“The settlement also includes extra investment to continue the job of police reform. But it is not a reprieve from reform, it does not let forces off the hook or allow them to slow the pace of change.

“Every force will still need to make savings years on year by putting an end to wasteful and inefficient spending.”