Police forces across the West Midlands have been praised for coping with massive spending cuts – even though this meant axing almost 4,000 jobs.
The four police forces in the region have faced funding cuts of £300 million between them.
They have cut staff numbers by 3,943 in an effort to cope, including the loss of 2,491 police officer posts.
Crime is continuing to fall, surveys find public satisfaction with the police is up and forces are protecting their front line services “as best they can”, said HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
But HMIC warned that police services would struggle to deal with further funding cuts, as it published series of reports judging each force on how they have coped so far.
West Midlands Police had to save £146 million over four years, HMIC said. This meant losing 1,439 police officer posts, 554 police staff and 142 Police Community Support Officers – a total loss of 2,135 staff, or about one in six of the original workforce.
The report praised West Midland Police’s response to the cuts as “outstanding”.
But it warned that the force faced a bigger challenge than others, because it was particularly reliant on funding from central government rather than the council tax precept.
HMIC said: “As a proportion of its overall budget, this savings requirement of 22 percent is above the England and Wales total, and HMIC considers that West Midlands Police faces a particularly difficult challenge. It attracts a high central funding contribution, but lower local funding than many other forces, which means that central funding cuts have a more considerable impact on it compared with other forces.”
And HMIC said West Midlands police could struggle to make further cuts in future because its costs outside of salaries are already lower than most other forces in England and Wales.
West Mercia Police had to save £36.9 million over four years, HMIC said. This meant losing 442 police officers, 242 police staff and 33 PCSOs. This is 717 staff in total, around one in six.
The force was praised for saving money by working in partnership with Warwickshire Police.
HMIC said: “West Mercia Police has entered into an ambitious and innovative alliance with Warwickshire Police that is enabling both forces to make significant savings through collaborating.”
Warwickshire Police has to save £28.2 million. This meant losing 118 police officers, 252 police staff and 38 PCSOs, a total of 408 staff or more than a fifth of the workforce.
HMIC warned: “Warwickshire Police faces a particularly difficult challenge because the scale of the savings are high and the force already spends less than other forces.
“It has the lowest number of police officers per head of population, and police officer costs are the lowest across forces in England and Wales.”
Staffordshire Police was forced to find savings of £89.3 million. It cut police officer numbers by 492, police staff by 162 and PCSOs by 28, a total of 683 staff or about one in seven.
HMIC said: “The force has maintained a strong focus on effective service provision while making these considerable savings.”
The reports said HMIC was concerned about the erosion of neighbourhood policing. Some officers are spending more time away from their neighbourhood beats because they have more crime investigation work to do.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, said: “Police forces have had considerable success in achieving the required savings over the last four years, but that there are still more efficiencies that forces could achieve through greater measures of collaboration between forces and with the private sector and other parts of the public sector.”
Yvette Cooper MP Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This report confirms the serious threat to neighbourhood policing – despite the fact that it should be the cornerstone of effective British policing. HMIC say their concerns are growing.”