Â£4.571m emergency Government funding is '˜breathing space' for Beds Police, but next month's core budget announcement remains crucial
Bedfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has won her bid for Â£4.571m in a unique emergency funding application to the Home Office to cover the unprecedented cost of fighting gang, gun and knife crime in the county.
The Policing Special Grant was raised by the Government to £93m in the Policing Settlement of December 2017. The fund has typically covered single events outside ‘business as usual’ for police forces, such as a terror attack, but Mrs Holloway argued that the cost of fighting a surge in gun, gang and knife crime in Bedfordshire has represented just such a unique pressure on the Force.
She said: “It’s genuinely a first that this type of grant is being paid to us at all: usually only single events which are not part of the usual workload of a force qualify for a Special Grant but I’ve fought all year to land the argument that the nature of the gang, gun and knife issues we face represents precisely that extraordinary challenge for Bedfordshire Police.
“I raised the argument that the Policing Settlement of December 2017 was inadequate for this Force with the Policing Minister, Nick Hurd, on the same day he announced it almost a year ago.
“I met him and the Police Funding team from the Home Office in February to lay out our case and ever since then the Chief Finance Officer and I, backed superbly by the Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher, have been battling to land our argument that emergency financial help is an absolute necessity for Bedfordshire Police.”
Mrs Holloway added: “I’m absolutely delighted that the Minister and the Home Office have been listening - as has the police watchdog (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services) HMICFRS, who have to recommend that a bid is accepted, and that my bid for £4.571m is to be granted in full.
“This will cover the entire cost of Op Boson, the Force’s specialist response to gang, gun and knife crime, which has placed an unprecedented strain on us over the past two years, together with the spend on this area calculated for this financial year.”
Chief Constable Jon Boutcher said: “This is fantastic news for Bedfordshire Police and will pay the Force back some of the additional costs we have had to pay to respond to those serious and complex issues, including guns, gangs and knife-crime, that we are not currently adequately financed to deal with.
“The funding issues faced by this Force are no secret and we have worked hard to highlight the issues of being a rurally-funded force having to deal with complex crime challenges usually seen in large metropolitan areas.
“Nationally, policing is facing broader and more complex demand that it has ever seen before. I hope this is an indication of the recognition of the support that national policing desperately requires.”
Bedfordshire Police’s Chief Finance Officer, Phil Wells, worked closely with the Home Office throughout 2018 to provide evidence to support the PCC’s argument concerning the unique challenge which fighting gun, gang and knife crime is representing for the Force.
The emergency bid will not end Bedfordshire Police’s financial woes as it covers money which has already largely been spent but it does protect the Force from an overspend this financial year.
Mrs Holloway said: “It gives me breathing space with the budget as we had been heading for a substantial overspend. It does not mean that I will let up on my argument - either in public or private - over our core funding position, both before the announcement next month of our 2019/20 budget (together with that for other forces) and beyond.
“If the settlement for next year falls short of the £10m per annum I have evidenced fully that Bedfordshire Police needs and I am given the flexibility to raise the precept without spending approximately £1 million on a referendum, I will not hesitate to do so to make up the difference.
“I am determined to do all that I possibly can as Bedfordshire’s PCC to get funding for the 300 officers and 80 detectives that we have provided evidence to the Home Office that we need to bring us to a level which is simply comparable with forces facing the same challenges and to support our officers and staff in everything that they do for the public in Bedfordshire.
“But it’s very good to be sharing some positive financial news for once as this could have been a Black Friday announcement for Bedfordshire Police and instead it’s been a very welcome Christmas present!”
The Commissioner also praised the work of the county’s MPs in supporting her in making Bedfordshire Police’s case to Ministers on a cross party basis.
She said: “The South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous has been outstanding in his ongoing efforts to draw attention to the plight of Bedfordshire Police, whose funding and officer numbers are simply inadequate for the very serious crime challenges it faces including the third highest terror threat in the country, serious organised crime imported from London and overseas via the M1 and A1, national rail services and Luton Airport and very significant gun supply and county line drug dealing activity to and from the capital.
“Nadine Dorries, in Central Bedfordshire, and Alistair Burt in North Bedfordshire have also kept attention on the issue with the Policing Minister, Home Secretary and now Chancellor.
“Bedford Labour MP Mohammad Yasin asked a question in the House about my Special Grant bid and Kelvin Hopkins in Luton also wrote on my behalf to the Policing Minister. I’m enormously grateful to every one of them for their support on a cross party basis, which is one thing which I believe helped to make Bedfordshire’s argument stand out.
“We now just need to wait until next month to see whether the Chancellor was also listening and whether he understands the absolutely genuine case for funding assistance for Bedfordshire Police moving forward and that this is contained in the new Policing Settlement.”