What's happened to police budgets?

24 March 2017
What was claimed

The government has cut police spending by 25% over the last five years.

Our verdict

Direct government grants to police forces have fallen by 25% over the last five years. Funding fell by 18% overall because forces were able to raise more money locally.

What was claimed

Police spending has been protected.

Our verdict

Direct funding from government for police in England and Wales will continue to fall until 2020. Most local forces have the power to raise enough money to keep their budgets flat - but only if they raise the maximum amount they're allowed to.

What was claimed

Police budgets are being cut.

Our verdict

Direct government grants to the police have been cut for the past five years. They will continue to fall over the next few years. Most local forces have the power to maintain their budgets if they raise the maximum amount they are allowed to.

“The policing minister has mentioned a few times the police are doing a great job. Well why then every year are you cutting police budgets?”

BBC Question Time audience member, 23 March 2017

“Over the last few years we have had to make some really difficult decisions around public sector spending … In the budget last year we protected police spending and we've also increased the spending on this area: counter-terrorism, is going up 30%.”

Brandon Lewis, 23 March 2017

“You have cut spending by 25% over five years”

David Dimbleby, 23 March 2017

Everyone has a point. Police funding in England and Wales has fallen over the last five years, and it’s expected to stay flat over the next five. The government itself won’t be putting in all the money to achieve that—it will only be flat if local forces choose to raise additional money themselves.

The government also plans to increase counter-terrorism funding by 30% over this parliament.

Police funding is devolved in Scotland and there are separate arrangements for Northern Ireland.

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Police funding fell from 2010/11 to 2015/16

That’s according to estimates compiled by the National Audit Office. Overall funding fell by 18%, taking inflation into account. That compares to a 31% increase in funding between 2000/01 and 2010/11.

That 18% isn’t what the government itself has cut from the budget. Direct government funding has fallen by 25% over the same period, which is what David Dimbleby is referring to. Most of the police budget comes from central government, but forces can also raise money locally via council taxes and this pot increased slightly over the period. That’s why, overall, it’s an 18% loss of funding.

This varies a lot locally. That 18% average ranges from a 12% fall in Surrey police force to a 23% fall in Northumbria. This is mainly because some forces, like Northumbria, rely more heavily on government grants and don’t raise as much locally. Surrey, by contrast, was the only police force last year to raise more money locally than it got from the government.

Government funding to the police will fall this parliament, but local forces can raise the difference themselves

The 2015 Spending Review promised to “protect overall police spending in real terms over the Spending Review period”—up to 2019/20, and that’s reflected in more detailed estimates the government has published.

The central government part of that is actually expected to fall in real terms. It only stays flat overall if local Police and Crime Commissioners raise the maximum they’re allowed to.

The government plans to spend 30% more on counter-terrorism by the end of the decade

A small part of government police funding is ring-fenced for counter-terrorism, but the allocations to local areas aren’t published for security reasons.

In the 2015 Spending Review, the government committed to “spend 30% more overall in real terms on key counter-terrorism capabilities over the Parliament”. This was reiterated by Theresa May in response to this week’s terror attacks in London.

In 2017/18, £675 million has been set aside for counter-terrorism from government resource funding of about £9.2 billion.

Update 7 June 2017

We re-worded the conclusions that head the article to make them easier to understand.

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