A report found that while Lincolnshire Police has met spending cuts better than many other UK forces, it could struggle to make further expected cuts.
The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found Lincolnshire Police presently coping well with the financial challenges all police forces have had to face.
However, it expressed numerous concerns about how it intends to save money and keep frontline policing in future, as further financial cuts are expected.
Lincolnshire Police needed to save £19.8 million between March 2011 and March 2015.
So far, the force has plans in place to save £18.3 million, with another £1.5 million to find — although the force will probably use earmarked reserves to close the gap.
HMIC is concerned that the use of reserves shows that the force does not have a sustainable workforce model to match its budget restrictions.
The report also sees that due to being a small force with one of the lowest spends already, and that is has outsourced a number of roles to G4S, it may struggle to find other areas to cut back on.
Lincolnshire Police previously cut 9% of its frontline staff in order to make savings, but it pledged to maintain its current number of frontline staff until March 2015.
The figure of staff the force is managing to protect is presently higher than other forces, however, by 2015 other forces are expecting to be able to increase their frontline staff again, despite cuts.
However, HMIC also noted that Lincolnshire Police had good statistics regarding its lowered crime level and improved victim satisfaction level.
The report summarised: “Lincolnshire Police has made good progress in meeting its financial challenge and has developed a detailed change programme which will allow it to reduce costs while continuing to fight crime.
“As a small force which has undertaken significant change and restructuring to reduce its costs, Lincolnshire Police has limited opportunities for further savings. In addition, there have been significant changes in the senior team, which has not helped in terms of organisational stability.
“The recent loss of capability and resilience in that top team is of concern to HMIC. It may impact on the organisation’s ability to put itself in the best possible position to meet future challenges.”
HM Inspector of Constabulary for the Eastern Region, Zoë Billingham, said: “Lincolnshire Police faces a difficult challenge. It has the lowest cost of policing per head of population in England and Wales and has taken more decisive steps than most forces in order to close its funding gap.
“Over the last year the chief officer team has been subject to significant change and uncertainty. HMIC is concerned that this could be de-stabilising for the organisation at a time when further substantial financial challenges are expected.
“Due to outsourcing significant business and operational support areas Lincolnshire now has far fewer opportunities to make non-staff savings compared to other forces.
“It may soon struggle to identify where further savings can come from with little option but to cut frontline police officer numbers further.
“HMIC therefore has concerns about the ability of the force to maintain its current level of service to the communities of Lincolnshire when faced with further significant budget reductions from 2015/16 onwards.
“HMIC will continue to monitor the force for the remainder of the spending review period.”
Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick, who has recently been campaigning for extra funding for police forces, believes that the Government’s funding formula is not fair on forces or taxpayers.
He said: “This report underlines once again that the Government’s funding formula for policing is not equitable. It positively discriminates against Lincolnshire.
“It cannot be right that not only does spending on policing vary so widely across the country, but also that in some areas such as Lincolnshire, local taxpayers shoulder a much greater burden through the Council tax for the cost of policing. If everyone spent the same as we do in Lincolnshire, the police service in England would cost around £1bn less.”
“HMIC could add much more to the national debate about how the police service needs to transform. Securing the future of policing services is not just about meeting the demands of austerity and making cuts.”
He added: “The service needs to deliver the right services, efficiently and effectively and taxpayers need to feel they are getting a fair deal. Many of HMIC’s conclusions about the work we have been doing in Lincolnshire are superficial and in some cases inaccurate.
“They fail to see that our strategic partnership with the private sector provides us not only with greater flexibility than we would have without it, but also greater capacity to transform how we do business to the benefit of our community. It also concerns me that there is an incessant focus on cuts and doom-mongering.
“What I’m interested in getting the best out of every pound we have to spend.
“HMIC could better serve the public if they looked at how forces are utilising their resources. And they could do no better than assess how well other forces are doing in delivering lean and effective policing against the success we have had in Lincolnshire.”
Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable Neil Rhodes said: “HMIC confirmed in their report that in very challenging circumstances, we have strong plans to provide a balanced budget for the next two financial years (through to April 2015).
“Recent indications about the national budget for policing (through to April 2016) lead us to believe we will be able to sustain a force of 1,100 officers and a strong policing service.
“The HMIC report correctly identifies that Lincolnshire Police has implemented almost all of the best practice efficiency measures for the service, and in relation to partnership working with the private sector actually leads the country. We have stepped up to meet the current challenges and will continue to do so.”
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