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HMIC efficiency report highlights difficulty of responding to national funding challenge

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published today, Tuesday 20 October, assessed that despite good practice in some areas, Dorset Police ‘requires improvement’ in its overall financial health and workforce planning.

Responding to the report, Dorset Police expresses disappointment at this overall assessment. The Force further states that the assessment reflects the stark consequences that central government cuts have already had on a small police force that had previously been considered prudent and efficient in its financial management.

Deputy Chief Constable James Vaughan said: “Dorset Police will, of course, consider the HMIC’s recommendations carefully in light of the national funding situation. However, the report shows that previous central government requirements to make significant savings are already starting to be felt.

“That said, I would reassure local people that we have risen to financial challenges in the past. We also already have significant pieces of work underway to understand the policing demands of the future and to plan our work to meet these demands based on the likely budget we will have.”

The report assessed that the way Dorset Police uses its available resources to match complex demand is already ‘good’. This reflects the achievements of the Force over recent years in improving performance and providing good services to the public, despite significant reductions in funding.

However, the Inspectorate concluded that, while the Force has responded well to financial challenges in the past, it requires improvement to its future workforce planning to prepare for the full extent of anticipated further cuts to police budgets. HMIC also raised concern surrounding the levels of reserves held.

DCC Vaughan continued: “The HMIC report repeats the Chancellor’s announcement this summer that unprotected areas, including policing, could face further national spending cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent. The full extent of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review is expected to be released in late November.

“Their report also makes some projections of the impact on officer and staff numbers if the savings required are presented in terms of reductions in headcount. However, this methodology has not been used by Dorset Police and their estimates do not reflect any specific plans being explored here. We have decided that such planning around exact officer and staff numbers should take place, if required, when the exact scale of savings are known.

“Dorset Police has decided not to try and pre-empt the level of future savings that will be required, as there is such a high level of variance in the estimates given and the potential changes to the Home Office Funding Formula are also unclear.

“However, we have already started a number of pieces of work to prepare. We will also respond quickly and with agility when our financial future is clearer. Obviously it would be virtually impossible to prepare detailed workforce plans for the next five years when the budget we will have to work within is unknown. Therefore, we recognise the HMIC’s finding that our planning in this area is incomplete.”

Work is already underway to help meet any future financial challenge, to modernise the Force and to meet new policing demands. This includes a Strategic Alliance with Devon & Cornwall Police. The Strategic Alliance is already developing 27 detailed business cases to reduce costs while maintaining services to the public, by sharing some back office and specialist services. Dorset Police is also working on regional collaboration with the four other forces in the South West.

Detailed workforce planning for the future and the identification of areas of policing priority requires meaningful consultation with the public, rather than decisions being made in isolation by the Force.

DCC Vaughan explained: “Dorset Police and the Police & Crime Commissioner are currently undertaking a large scale project to help explain the challenges of policing to the public and to seek their views on what we should focus on in the future.

“I would encourage everyone to take part in this ‘Your Dorset, Your Police, Your View’ consultation to let us know what’s most important to you. Our belief is that it would be short-sighted and arrogant to create detailed plans for the future without seeking the public’s views first. People must understand the level of further savings we will have to make before they can help decide how we should prioritise.

“Therefore, we have chosen to sequence our planning in this way. We accept that this desire to consult with the public before making big decisions that will affect local policing means that our current plan is not detailed enough, which is why the HMIC have recommended improvements in this area.”

The final area assessed by the HMIC expressed concerns that Dorset Police does not hold large amounts of money in reserves.

DCC Vaughan concluded: “Dorset Police has demonstrated an impeccable track record of financial management over many years, maintaining our reserves within professional guidelines. These reserves have been fully audited and endorsed by qualified external experts.

“Instead of holding large reserves, the Force has remained debt free and has also settled local government pension deficits. Many other forces have much larger reserves, but this is often coupled with higher debt and an unpaid pension liability.”

Issued: 20 October 2015