West Yorkshire Police’s reserves will be mostly used up within five years because of the funding crisis facing the force, the county’s police and crime commissioner has warned MPs.
In a letter to Parliamentary representatives, Mark Burns-Williamson urges them to make the case for more central funding as he says the current ‘flat cash’ settlement from the Government, which does not give any extra funding to cope with increased demand or rising costs, is putting public safety at risk.
Ahead of next week’s Budget, he warns that police officers and staff are under enormous pressure, with rising levels of sickness having “serious implications” for recruitment and retention.
One West Yorkshire MP says the “systemic failure” in funding is damaging the public’s confidence in the police service, with the number of officers devoted to neighbourhood policing cut in recent years.
Mr Burns-Williamson says most of West Yorkshire Police’s existing £95m reserves will have been spent by 2022, with up to £11m used this year alone to fund frontline policing.
“The price we will pay for an under-resourced police service in West Yorkshire is too high,” he said in the letter. “The police’s ability to combat crime and properly protect the public here in West Yorkshire is under strain and the cost to our communities is being seen in a rise in response times, an increase in crime and a decrease in confidence levels.
“Since 2010, we have had a budget cut of £140m and the loss of 2,000 police officers and staff with police numbers at the lowest level for many years.
“The pressure this has put the police under as forces like ours try to protect frontline policing and find efficiencies elsewhere is significant and, in today’s context, unsustainable.
“In our county we continue to police by consent with neighbourhood policing as the cornerstone of community safety but to continue to do this we need to invest more in the frontline.”
Unlike neighbouring North Yorkshire, where the county’s demographic means more is generated through local council tax bills, West Yorkshire Police is more reliant on central government funding.
Mr Burns-Williamson said that simply increasing the local precept would mean the burden is put on local taxpayers who are less able to pay.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday, Bradford South MP Judith Cummins (Lab) said: “It appears to me to be a systemic failure in funding. From my point of view, police should be fighting crime, and not having to fight for the funding they get.
“I spoke after the Budget last year about crime and neighbourhood policing, and everything I said is just as true now. It is immensely frustrating that the Government is not stepping up and investing. In Bradford South there have been a number of incidents where I have worked with the police and local councils to set up a local crimewatch scheme.
“Without that investment in neighbourhood policing, it is difficult for the public to have the confidence they need in a system where we police by consent.”
As of March 31, the usable reserve available to West Yorkshire Police was £95m, but much of this is already earmarked for back office transformation, PCSO funding and other activity.
The force’s total annual budget is £420m.