Chief Constable Peter Goodman writes open letter to PCC
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The full letter reads:
Precept Considerations for 2020/21
I am writing to you as I enter my fourth year as Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary and to share my professional view on why I believe you should increase the council tax precept by £10, subject to the maximum allowed by the Government and regulations. During my time as Chief Constable I believe that we have developed a good and professional working relationship, one which I hope that you have found to be beneficial, allowing you to hold me to account for the delivery of policing services within Derbyshire, supporting the ambitions of your Police and Crime Plan.
Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank you on behalf of the Constabulary for proposing last year’s precept increase of £24, which was unanimously supported by the Police & Crime Panel. This provided the opportunity for the Constabulary to continue to provide a high quality policing service to the people of Derbyshire. As a result of this precept growth, I am pleased to say that I have been able to increase the number of Police Officers and Police Staff dedicated to providing visible policing within our communities by 120 people, comprising of fifty-eight Police Officers, fifteen Police Staff, eleven Neighbourhood Enquiry Officers, fourteen PCSOs and twenty two Detective Staff Investigators. This year has also seen our first cohort of Police Now Officers join the Constabulary, specifically recruited to support visible neighbourhood policing. Police Now is a two-year graduate programme, training and developing people to become part of the next generation of Police Officers. This is a new way to enter the police family, broadening the diversity, skills and experience of our workforce and helping to make us truly representative of our communities.
In addition to all of the above, I have supported your commitment to ensure a visible and dedicated difference to the way in which rural communities are policed through the creation of a County-wide Rural Crime Team. Further work is also ongoing to train Safer Neighbourhood Officers so that they are equipped to respond to the rural and wildlife issues in their local area. I also know that as part of your #D383 initiative, one of the consistent topics that was raised as a concern by our communities is the speeding of motor vehicles. I am very pleased to say that last year’s precept increase allowed me to provide an uplift of specialist officers dedicated to tackling speeding and other crime on the roads of the north-west of the County and beyond. This is yielding rewards, with the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads of Derbyshire already reduced. We have also seen investment in our public protection capability, which sees the most vulnerable victims of crimes such as sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and domestic violence receive an enhanced service from the Constabulary.
The changes that I have made to the Constabulary are not limited to ensuring “boots on the ground”. A priority of mine has been to ensure that the Constabulary is completely fit to face the future through a comprehensive programme of workforce modernisation. We were one of the first forces to implement the National Enablers Programme, and our ground-breaking work on Business Intelligence, Analytics, and 24-7 drone coverage proves our commitment to innovate and “push the envelope” when it can be shown to deliver clear benefits to the organisation. I have also ensured that cultural change is prioritised, empowering my colleagues to do the right thing without fear of blame should it go wrong, guaranteeing that lessons are learned throughout the entire organisation, and emphasising a just culture that is able to demonstrate a real difference to the people of Derbyshire.
I know that the decision to propose and lobby for this increase in funding was a difficult one for you to make, especially at a time when household budgets are being squeezed on many fronts. I hope that I have shown that when the Constabulary is trusted by you with the public’s money, it spends it wisely, ensuring that the benefits to the community are realised quickly and intelligently.
As you know, the cost of policing does not remain static, and over recent years we have seen some very real and significant financial challenges facing the Constabulary. Some of these challenges are completely out of our control, such as the recent decision to increase Police Officer and Police Staff salaries by 0.5% above the expected level of 2%, yielding a requirement to find an additional £0.6m annually. In the absence of contrary information, we forecast that this 2.5% increase will continue for several years to come. We have also seen a recent change to the way in which the contribution to Police Officer pensions is calculated, yielding an additional, and significant, annual pressure of £1.8m which is currently being met by a grant contribution from the Home Office; although there are no guarantees on that funding going forward.
We are also confronted with a constantly changing landscape regarding the way in which our business is conducted in the digital environment. Whilst I recognise that this does present us with many opportunities for long-term savings through business efficiencies, such as those expected from our Analytics programme, there are significant upfront and ongoing maintenance costs associated with technology development and licensing which are unavoidable. We do, of course, have the option of reducing our expenditure on the future-proofing of our capabilities, but this is ultimately ill-advised as it would denude our ability to tackle new and emerging crime types, as well as reducing our capability to understand and address the ever-increasing and complex demands placed upon our services.
As mentioned above, we are leading the way with the National Enablers Programme, recognising at an early stage the potential it could bring. However, we should not forget that this programme was an unavoidable outcome of the changes to Office 365 over which we had no control. Increasingly, what were old infrastructure and on-premise storage capital costs in IT have now become annual revenue costs based upon licences and cloud-based storage solutions which create further pressure. We are now completely reliant on technology, and I know you share my ambition that we should make the most of what this offers, to improve policing and the services we offer; its changing nature does have a significant impact upon our finances however.
It should not be forgotten that the risk and threat that we face as a society is constantly changing. Again, the ability to meet these challenges is not without cost, and tackling vulnerability requires significant investment. For example, the recent work to address the scourge of modern slavery in Derby and Latvia through Operation Doubrava necessitated an expensive multi-national, multi-agency investigation which resulted in the safeguarding of twenty-eight vulnerable adults and the prosecution of eleven perpetrators. As a result of Operation Doubrava, the Constabulary now has a unit dedicated to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking; only a few years ago this would have been seen as a luxury, rather than a necessary and vital tool in our arsenal against organised criminality.
Whilst some of the above areas have been financed through the increases in precept over recent years, I have ensured that our reserves have been used, as appropriate, to reduce the burden on the public purse. However, we are now at a stage where our reserves have been largely depleted, reducing at the fastest rate of any other Force over the recent period, and aggravated by the recent unforeseen and significant expenditure incurred whilst responding to the emergency at Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge (which the Force is unable to claim back as it fell below Bellwin limits).
Put bluntly, it is not a comfortable position in which we now find ourselves. If we assume a maximum 2% increase in the precept for the forthcoming year (the limit currently set by the Government), then we face a real-terms cut and an end of year deficit of approximately £2.9m in 2020/21, with insufficient available funding in reserves to balance the budget. Savings opportunities are still being developed through the “Bridging the Funding Gap” programme and are by no means certain at the moment. Any prudent financial planning would not anticipate “banking” any savings that are still in the process of being delivered. Whilst our reserves would certainly be decimated in this scenario, the impact would also be felt in the inability to continue with our various modernisation programmes, with planned upgrades and maintenance to our estate being scaled back, delayed, or put on hold indefinitely. It may very well be the case that in order to achieve the desired level of savings (thus maintaining an appropriate but highly reduced level of reserves), resource vacancies will have to be placed on-hold, with a very strong possibility of an overall reduction in numbers of Police Staff, which may reluctantly include Investigators and other frontline Police Staff, throughout the County.
Whilst a 2% precept increase would present significant challenges if substantial savings cannot be identified, a 0% increase in the precept amount has the potential to be catastrophic to policing in the County, with an expected end of year deficit of approximately £3.7m in 2020/21. It is no exaggeration to state that all operational activity would be detrimentally impacted upon, forcing the Constabulary back into austerity measures, and leading to all of the good work conducted during my time as Chief Constable to be completely undone. All modernisation programmes would cease, redundancies would be inevitable, and we would have no choice but to scale back on our involvement in wider partnership working as well as looking to delay any further investment in collaborative opportunities with Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service; collaboration and partnership working is not a zero-sum game with the Police having historically invested heavily to ensure its success. Without doubt our current operating model would have to change, and we would be confronted with some difficult decisions as to the type and level of service we give. We know other forces have operated some very strong non-investigation and triage policies for certain crimes and incidents. We have taken a very pragmatic threat and risk-based approach thus far, but it would be choices such as this which we would face if presented with such a large financial gap.
The recently announced uplift of Police Officers by 20,000 is certainly welcome, and will yield approximately 280 additional Officers over the next three years. However, the reality is that this will not even return us to resource levels that were already in existence prior to the recent period of austerity and overall reduced Government spending. In particular it would do nothing to address the loss of nearly 300 Police Staff since 2010, whose work is vital in supporting activity of frontline Police Officers. The funding for these Officers is ring-fenced, and recruitment will be closely monitored by the Home Office to ensure the successful delivery of this target. Ultimately, this means that whilst our overall Police Officer figures will increase regardless of the precept amount, we do not have the flexibility to “cash-in” these resources for use elsewhere. In-fact, if we are left with no alternative but to hold vacancies or to consider redundancies as discussed above, then we will need to back-fill some or all of those deemed essential with Police Officers rather than significantly undermine the service we offer to our communities. This will reduce the impact of the uplift programme on our ability to deliver an enhanced frontline policing presence. Of note, this may very well be prevented by the Government who want to see the uplift programme deliver visible policing rather than backroom support. Let me be clear, we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where Police Officers carry out office-based roles that would be better undertaken by Police Staff.
Clearly therefore, neither the 0% or 2% precept figures would be sufficient if our primary purpose is to ensure the safety and security of the residents of Derbyshire. Our financial forecasting suggests that the most sensible and pragmatic approach, an approach which balances the needs of the Constabulary against the additional fiscal “ask” of council tax payers of the County, is to see a more significant increase, to the maximum allowed if the Government raise the limit on the precept amount (which could be around £10) whilst still developing a savings programme that ensures we are efficient and effective; the Force remains in the lowest quartile for spend per head of population and for its available reserves. Whilst I understand that increasing the burden on council tax payers has always been your last resort, and that your preference has always been for increased central Government grant funding, it is my belief that this is the only realistic option left open to us, to protect the service financially, whilst ensuring that your strategic priorities (as set out in your Policing Plan) are addressed. This precept amount would allow for our current recruitment profile to remain unchanged, and would demonstrate a commitment to the people of Derbyshire to continue the level of investment in community policing seen over the past two years.
I believe that it is fair to say that up until recently, and as a result of austerity, the Constabulary has been operating at a level at which we have only been able to deliver essential services. In the past two years, and with your support, I have been able to invest in the areas of greatest risk and threat, and together we have provided a specific uplift of resources to the area of neighbourhood policing. My colleagues and I strive every day to ensure that these services are delivered to the best of our collective ability, but the recent inspections by HMICFRS have suggested that an ongoing and general erosion in the availability of resources throughout the Constabulary has impeded upon our ability to truly deliver these services to a quality that the public of the County of Derbyshire would, and should, expect.
Ultimately, and in order to meet our principle of keeping Derbyshire safer together with our partners, we require investment. The combination of the uplift of Police Officers combined with a £10 precept increase (if allowed by the Government) would put the Constabulary in a better place in which it is fit to meet the challenges, both known and unknown, that lay ahead in 2020/21 and beyond.
With kindest regards,
Peter Goodman QPM