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Downing Street Halts New Police Funding Plan Over Fears Of Election Backlash

Police officers in Millwall, London (Alamy)

3 min read

Exclusive: A long-planned new formula for how the police are funded has been put on hold over concern among ministers that it could result in some local services facing spending cuts heading into the next general election.

No.10 and the Treasury have asked the Home Office to put the brakes on work to produce a new funding formula that officials have been working on for several years, and there is now severe doubt over whether it will see the light of day before the general election, which is anticipated this year, PoliticsHome understands.

The current formula setting out how local police services are funded was first devised in 2006, and there is widespread agreement that it is no longer fit for purpose. In December, the Treasury told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that it would implement a new funding formula as "soon as practicable", and that it aimed to publish a consultation in Winter 2023.

However, it is believed that Downing Street recently intervened to pause long-term work to produce a new formula over concern it would result in some police services facing financial losses in relative terms and hand opposition parties the opportunity to accuse Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of planning police cuts heading into the next general election. Downing Street and the Treasury wanted to be able to state that no police service would lose out as a result of changes to the funding formula. 

Currently, police services get most of their funding (around 70 per cent) from central government in Westminster, according to the Institute for Government think tank. Ministers give money to police and crime commissioners, who then decide how to allocate it in their local services. Real-term government spending on police services has risen significantly over the past five years, according to IfG analysis. This is partly due to the 2019 policy of recruiting 20,000 additional police officers by early 2023, introduced by former prime minister Boris Johnson.

A Home Office spokesperson said work on the new funding formula "remains ongoing", and pointed to how much money police services are set to receive this year under the current funding formula.

“Our priority is to deliver a robust formula that allocates funding in a fair and transparent manner, ensuring that police have the resources they need. So far, a total police funding settlement of up to £18.4 billion in 2024-25 has been proposed," they told PoliticsHome.

“We have engaged closely with the policing sector on an evidence-based assessment of policing demand, and the impact of local factors on forces. This work remains ongoing."

But a Whitehall source feared the new formula was now at serious risk, and predicted a "90 per cent" chance that ministers will decide to shelve it altogether, leaving the next government – currently expected to be Labour-led – to decide what to do with it.

Recent research suggests a public perception that the Tories plan to cut public services would harm Sunak's already-uphill bid to avoid defeat to Starmer's Labour later this year. A YouGov poll for The Times earlier this month found that increased spending on public services was more popular than cutting tax with every group surveyed by the pollster.

Crime is set to be a major battleground heading into the next general election, with Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer putting law and order at the centre of their agendas. 

On Thursday, the government introduced new legislation to toughen up the ban on zombie knives. The law, which is expected to be implemented in the Autumn, seeks to close loopholes banning the sale, possession, manufacturing and transportation of the knives. Labour accused the government of having acted too slowly to tackle zombie knives, with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper describing the legislation as "too little, too late". The first ban was introduced in 2016, but the knife has been used in crimes committed since then.

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