November 19: Good reasons why Theresa May’s deputy taking the rap over police cuts

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From: Howard Knight, Lyons Street, Sheffield.

There are two reasons why Home Secretary Theresa May’s ‘hapless deputy’, Mike Penning, would choose to take the rap for the police budget shambles rather than insisting that heads should roll (Tom Richmond, The Yorkshire Post, November 14).

First, the Government does not want to deflect from its big narrative that “we have made significant cuts in Whitehall spending without affecting outcomes”. It was a narrative started by Eric Pickles, which Treasury Ministers have been using to challenge Ministers in all other departments.

However, it is very clear to those of us who take a clear interest in these matters that there has been a significant reduction in both capacity and institutional memory in government departments which is now having an impact on evidence-based policy analysis and decision-making. For example, departments have simply stopped collecting some data.

Local government finance (including police), with its multiple, inter-related regression analyses and ever-changing data bases, is rather like the Schleswig-Holstein question: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business – the Prince Consort, who is dead – a German professor, who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

The second reason is related. You cannot have failed to notice that, as well as significant cuts in overall resources – local government, health, transport – the Government is pursuing a strategy of switching resources within the spending envelope from northern, urban, poorer areas to southern, rural, wealthier areas.

In approaching changes to police funding for 2016/17 and beyond, Home Office Ministers tasked the civil servants with this strategy. Thus, the starting point is not a rational approach to evidence-based financial distribution but ‘this is the outcome that we want; now find the formulaic approach which gives us the best fit for the desired outcomes’.

Thus, it is no surprise that, so far as the Government is concerned, the ‘least-worst’ 
way forward is for Ministers to take the blame for technical errors (or, even better, take the credit for not blaming civil servants – great spin!) and abort proposed changes for 2016/17, thus still enabling implementation of the 
politically more important redistribution strategy, even if it is a year late.

Happy days!