How my spending cuts prediction is turning out to be horribly true - Dr Alan Billings

Two weeks ago, after the disastrous mini-budget I predicted that when the government was finally forced to confront financial reality, public spending cuts would start. I wrote this:

“If one of the departments that has to ‘save’ – make do with less – is the Home Office, where most of the money for policing comes from, will that ‘saving’ be passed on to police and crime commissioners and chief constables…. If the Home Office is squeezed, ministers will squeeze us in turn. Then we have a choice.

“We can reduce our spending – do less – or use our reserves or put up our local tax, or a combination of the three. What we cannot do, of course, is what the government intends to do: massive borrowing for day-to-day spending. We have a debit not a credit card.”

This is all turning out to be horribly true.

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Question marks hang over police budgets following mini-budget.Question marks hang over police budgets following mini-budget.
Question marks hang over police budgets following mini-budget.

How quickly the financial picture has changed. A year ago we were thanking the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, and the government for producing a three-year spending review that allowed us to plan ahead over a longer period of time with a reasonable degree of certainty. Now everything has been thrown in the air and as we sit down to plan the budget for April 2023-March 2024 we have no idea yet what government grant is going to be or what we should write in for inflation or the cost of borrowing.

Things can only get better? We hope. But if the new chancellor’s proposals, which will be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility on 31 October, don’t pass the three ‘C’s test, we are in trouble.

Like all budgets and financial statements they must be clear (we know what is being proposed without areas of ambiguity), coherent (all the moving parts must hang together) and credible (it must all look feasible in the real world). The mini-budget failed on each count. We breathlessly wait for the end of the month.

In the meantime, we have to assume it will be bad news on each count: grant will not be sufficient to cover for inflation (currently at 10 per cent); careful decisions will have to be made around future staffing; more will be needed by way of savings; there will be little to help us from the reserves; and decisions about the precept are not going to be easy.

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Meanwhile, statistics from the national Census have been gradually emerging since the summer. Each time new data is released we will need to think about what the implications might be, not least for policing and crime.

The overall size of the population has risen from 56 million in 2011 to almost 60 million in 2021. It is expected to reach 70 million within five years. England is now the second most densely populated country in Europe after the Netherlands.

Within that increase, the number of over 65s surged by 20 per cent to just over 11 million. At the same time, the number of young people under the age of 15 fell below this to just over 10 million.

In some parts of Yorkshire, the increase in the number of over 65s was very dramatic. In Richmondshire in North Yorkshire one in four people are now pensioners – double what was the case in 1981. While in Norfolk this rises to one in three.

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Similarly, in South Yorkshire there is a growth in the number and proportion of over 65s, though nothing like that of Norfolk.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.