Public confidence and trust in police is “breaking down” as forces struggle to respond to crime because of government cuts, MPs have said.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee found that funding for policing is down by almost one-fifth since 2010-11, and there are nearly one-fifth fewer officers and staff. 

It was released amid national calls for a crackdown on violence after five people were stabbed to death in London in just a week, and official statistics show knife crime at record levels.

Under 9 per cent of all recorded offences now result in the culprits being charged or summoned to court.

Police leaders told MPs how some local communities no longer feel safe after the decline of neighbourhood officers and high-visibility patrols.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “The ‘thin blue line’ is wearing thinner with potentially dire consequences for public safety. Public confidence and trust that the police will respond is breaking down.

“Funding reductions of nearly a fifth have placed severe strain on police forces, which have in turn been forced to cut back. The results are stark.”

The Public Accounts Committee’s report followed separate warnings by the Home Affairs Committee and National Audit Office over the state of police funding.

Ms Hillier said that the strain on officers was having an impact on their own wellbeing, as they are forced to become “first responders” to mental health and other issues worsened by cuts to other public services.

“This cannot continue,” she added. “Government must show leadership and get on with fixing the flaws at the heart of its approach to policing. 

“The Home Office must improve its understanding of the real-world demands on police, and use this information to inform its bid for funding from the Treasury. And when it secures that funding, it must distribute it effectively.”

Ms Hillier said it was “wholly unacceptable” that despite accepting that the widely-criticised formula used to allocate funding to police forces in England and Wales needed to change three years ago, the Home Office has no firm plans to do it. “The messages from communities and police forces across the UK are clear. The government must act now,” she added.

MPs called on the government to establish regular reviews of local forces’ financial sustainability, following the loss of almost 50,000 fewer officers and staff, including 15 per cent fewer officers, since 2010.

“Forces are struggling to deliver an effective service: it is taking longer for forces to charge offences; forces are making fewer arrests; they are doing less neighbourhood policing,” the Public Accounts Committee said.

“Forces are selling off more of their assets to try and raise some funds for capital investment and increasingly drawing on their reserves.”  

The report said police forces were increasingly prioritising their response to crimes because of insufficient resources, which are worsened by a “top-slice” of funding taken for national projects.

For example, £495m has been taken for police technology programmes, including the development of the Emergency Services Network, but by June it was running at least 15 months behind schedule.

Forces are also feeling the “pressure of ‘cost shunting’ as cuts to other areas of public spending, such as health, are passed onto policing because it is often the first line of response,” members concluded.

MPs attacked the budget for awarding fresh funding to counterterror policing only, rather than forces more widely.

A cash injection championed by the Home Office last year was largely driven by an increase in the council tax precept – the money taken from local residents for policing – and the committee said taxpayers were paying more to cover government cuts despite seeing fewer local officers.

Repeating calls first made in a 2015 report, MPs said the Home Office must develop better information on both crime and non-crime incidents attended by police forces.

They demanded that the Home Office develops a national strategy for policing within the next year, setting out what support they will be given for reforms.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for finance, Chief Constable Dave Thompson, said there “continue to be hard choices for chief constables”. 

“Budget cuts have meant that core aspects of policing are at risk of becoming unsustainable and ineffective to the detriment of public confidence,” he added. “Policing is at the tipping point – and we need to move on from here.”

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents 120,000 rank-and-file officers, said forces were “running on empty”.

Chair John Apter said: “This report is the latest in a long series of huge red flags for the government. This is now a critical situation and a national scandal. And they can’t say they weren’t warned

“Dedicated police officers are at breaking point and are overwhelmed by the ever-increasing demands being heaped on them as a result of eight years of austerity.”

He added: “What will it take for the government to take its head out of the sand and do something about it?” 

The Public Accounts Committee report was released after ministers were warned that national officer numbers could hit a record low if forces are made to plug a £600m funding shortfall caused by proposed pension changes.

(ONS)

Police chiefs wrote to the government last month saying that up to 10,000 officers’ jobs could be cut after being told to find £165m in 2019-20 and up to £417m in 2020-21, and have threatened legal action over the move.

Ministers dispute the job figures but Sajid Javid has vowed to fight for more policing funding in an upcoming financial settlement and government-wide spending review.

Diane Abbott said police were being increasingly required to tackle “social problems which have been deepened by Tory cuts in other budgets, especially local authorities”.

“The report presents a damning picture of government underfunding and mismanagement of the police force,” she added. “Austerity in policing continues, with the budget offering nothing new except a dubious claim to be increasing funding for counterterrorism. Police forces are reaching a crisis point and the government should end this reckless policy.”

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A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are on the front foot in engaging with the police and recognise the changing demands they are facing.

“The government’s balanced approach to the economy has helped ensure there is £1bn more of public money going into policing than three years ago and the home secretary has been clear that he will prioritise police funding.

“As the chancellor noted in the budget, we will review police spending power at the provisional police funding settlement in December.” 

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