KIM MCGUINNESS has called on an independent watchdog to investigate crime levels in areas she dubs as Government ‘funding favourites’ for police uplift investment. By contrast, Northumbria has been the force hardest hit by austerity and even post-uplift remains 427 officers short when compared to pre-2010 levels.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner has written to the National Audit Office asking them to further investigate police resources following the conclusion of the Government’s uplift programme to recruit 20,000 new police officers. The NAO is the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, supporting Parliament in holding Government to account.

Kim McGuinness believes that data to date shows the way in which funds for recruitment were allocated by the Home Office to police forces has risked permanently embedding a reduction in headcount in those forces hit hardest by Government austerity measures.

In the NAO’s own 2018 report Northumbria Police was cited as one of the forces to suffer most from austerity measures. Around 25% of the force’s budget was cut, the NAO report found, with a reduction in officer numbers of around 1,100 as a result.

In 2022 the NAO looked at value for money from the Government’s Uplift programme and noted that “it is too early to assess whether the additional officers are delivering the wider aims of Government to improve public safety and help to reduce crime”.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “The impacts of funding formulas and uplift investment on local crime levels needs looking at. People have the right to know. Not all areas of the country have benefited equally from the recent uplift in police officer numbers.

“I believe forces with a smaller police precept base, like we do here in Northumbria, have been denied the chance to fully replace the number of officers they’ve lost since 2010. The allocation of Home Office Uplift funding has effectively embedded this cut in headcount for the foreseeable future. For some of us Government has failed to fix the problem it created.”

Kim McGuinness went on to explain “As the NAO report in 2018 found, Northumbria has been reliant on Government for 81% of our funding. Under uplift we received funds for an initial intake of 615 officers. This figure was increased by 60 after the Home Office re-allocated underspend. Government withheld funding for around 425 extra officers needed to bring Northumbria’s policing numbers up to 2010 levels. This disparity is repeated in forces across the North of England, where the council tax base is often smaller than other areas.”

However, the Commissioner pointed to a very different story elsewhere in the country. Last year Essex Police revealed they now have the highest number of officers in their 182-year-history, funded by Uplift and the local precept which makes up nearly half of their funding. The area has also welcomed a significant fall in crime.

The Commissioner continued: “Home Office officials will have known of the differing reliance on central funding when they allocated Uplift targets. It’s fair to say there is a noticeable North-South divide when it comes to funding favouritism too.  And so, I have asked the NAO to look into this again and consider the impact of uplift on reducing crime, and whether the bias in uplift allocation will be considered when measuring impact at a local level.”

The Home Office estimated that nationally the additional officers will provide net positive benefits of £4.7 billion over the next 10 years through additional charges, reduced reoffending and deterrents, and will reduce the number of crimes by around half a million a year by 2024-25.

In a letter to the head of the NAO, Kim asks whether they will be assessing this return on investment against the criteria, and will it breakdown this assessment on a force by force basis.  She states the public have a right to see how crime has changed in areas with the most policing investment, and how those denied the ability to recruit to their 2010 headcount levels have seen crime levels change as a result. She looks forward to the reply.

The letter sent is available to download here.