Since taking over as Lincolnshire’s Chief Constable, Bill Skelly has developed a reputation for straight talking - and he certainly pulled no punches this week when he outlined what he describes as the ‘stark choices’ the force is facing without an injection of additional Government funding.
Mr Skelly is not the first high-ranking Lincolnshire police officer to warn about the consequences of under-funding. Unless there is a dramatic change in policy, he won’t be the last either.
He has revealed some of the facts and figures those choices might involve. He’s put some flesh on the bones... and it is not particularly appetising.
Mr Skelly says: “Our Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) means that we need to find savings over the next three financial years of £3.5m (2019/20), £6.4m (2020/21) and £6.9m (2021/2022).”
So, what does that mean? According to Mr Skelly, the choices could include:
• Police officers, currently 1,100, will need to be reduced by 60 and that could include areas such as dog handlers, roads policing, volume crime investigation as well as response and neighbourhood policing.
The figure represents a substantial fall in officer numbers when just a decade ago (2007) the force had a strength of 1,245.
The structure will be reviewed with potential reductions in all ranks. The force has said that if such changes have to be implemented, their resilience to respond to major incidents and continue to meet its commitments to the national strategic requirement would be reduced.
• PCSOs, the bedrock of neighbourhood and community policing, would need to be reduced by more than 40% which in real terms would mean numbers reducing from the current 120 to 67.
This alone would demand a radically different operating model.
• Police staff posts would need to reduce by 10% which on average salary costs could equate to approximately 30 posts. That scale of reduction has the potential to impact on a range of services but could include crime investigation; the delivery of change programmes and analytical capability – but the reality will depend on where the reductions are targeted.
Mr Skelly stresses the force is keen to achieve any reduction through ‘natural progression’ and to avoid the need for redundancy.
To achieve the £3.5m first year savings, the force has estimated that it would also need to reduce the cost of the contract with its strategic partner G4S by about 4%.
G4S say this will be difficult to achieve without reductions in operational support and the back office staff provided by them.
It will mean that services will need to be redesigned and may still affect what the public expects and, indeed, deserves .
The warnings comes after the publication of the first ever Force Management Statement (FMS) produced by Lincolnshire Police was published this morning (Tuesday).
Earlier this year, every force in the country was asked by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate to start compiling their reports for submission to them by mid-summer.
Lincolnshire is believed to be the first force in the country to publish its report.
It does not make comforting bed-time reading - a point Mr Skelly acknowledges.
He says: “Readers of the report will see that Lincolnshire is facing some stark choices if Government funding is not made available.
“In the context of finance, we simply cannot be nonviable and, unlike some other public sector services, have to keep going.
“We cannot run into debt. So, with less money, there is going to have to be less service.”
Mr Skelly emphasises that the force - and Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones - are working hard to campaign for a better deal for Lincolnshire.
Mr Skelly adds: “We have been encouraged by some very favourable comments from within Parliament, including the Policing Minister himself about the way we operate.
“Our focus will be on maximising income so that we can continue to provide the best level of service.”
Mr Skelly says he and senior colleagues are fully aware that the force is already struggling to meet demand.
Ominously, he accepts the pressure on police to tackle a general increase in crime will add to the pressure on what appears to be an increasingly thin blue line.
Chair of Lincolnshire Police Federation, Jon Hassall, said the taxpayer in Lincolnshire does not get a fair deal and police officers are ‘breaking’ because of the strain on them.
He said: “This is a sad indictment of what government has done to policing.
“It’s all very well hearing, favourable comments about how we operate from within Parliament but the time for words has passed and we need to see action,”
Secretary of Unison for Lincolnshire Police staff, Debbie Parker, added: “UNISON feels that budgetary cuts on the scale envisaged will seriously undermine the ability of the Force to provide the current high standards they achieve, with the assistance of its members, so as to best serve the demands of the community at large. Any lessening of services currently provided would seriously impact on the capability of the Force which will have been brought about through no fault of its own.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones said: £The release this week of the Force Management Statement has put into stark language the funding challenges facing Lincolnshire Police. But this is not new information.
“In January 2017 I announced I was using £4m from reserves to prop up the budget. In a statement, released to the press and published on my website here I warned that, unless Lincolnshire receives a fairer allocation of central funds in the future, services in the county were under threat.
“In January this year I issued a statement widely covered by the press and posted on my own website that, once again, warned of the dangers ahead.
“In the current financial year I committed £5.3m from reserves in order to maintain service levels and said at the time that we “face some tough challenges in the years ahead and, if we cannot find solutions, it’s hard to see how we can maintain service levels”.
“I also made it clear the reserves were now exhausted. In essence the force’s budget has been “propped up” with millions of pounds from reserves on top of the council tax and government grant. That is no longer possible.
Both myself and our local MPs have lobbied hard to make the Treasury and Home Office recognise the difficulties facing Lincolnshire as a result of an outdated and flawed funding formula.
“I will not give up on that fight. I will continue to work tirelessly for the people I represent to get them the fairer deal they need and deserve.
“In the meantime I have made it an absolute priority of my administration to find new, modern and innovative ways of ensuring that the money we do have is spent in the most effective and efficient way possible.
“Drones, the latest in mobile technology, online gun licensing and many other projects are revolutionising the way we provide services for the public.
“That search for smarter ways to spend our money and deploy our resources will not stop and I will, as always, expect the Chief Constable to examine all options for delivering efficiencies we can protect frontline services as best as we can.”