It was Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber who coined his own definition of contentment: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds, nought and six, result misery.”
The police budget is like that only with several noughts tagged-on.
Police reserves – the sum that’s put by for a rainy day – come up occasionally, especially when Governments are criticised for tightening the purse strings. And since eyebrows have again been raised in certain quarters, now is a good time to explain why they are necessary.
As the elected representative in charge of the police budget, I currently set aside 5% to cover uncertainty over future funding and as a contingency for major incidents, which may require significant resource levels for a long period of time – the so-called rainy day.
I also set aside funds for specific purposes. The total sum I hold in reserve represents 20% of the police budget and any responsible organisation would do likewise. For example, Gloucestershire County Council reserves represent 38% of its budget. Other public bodies might set aside more, some less. I cannot speak for them but keeping a sensible reserve gives the Chief Constable and I the flexibility we need for managing future budget cuts and funding essential investment.
Technology moves faster than we can keep pace. Just as radio replaced whistles, today’s mobile communications will be out of date sooner rather than later. There is a constant turnover in vehicles, buildings and IT which have to be paid for. The value for money comes from ‘Invest to save’ projects which reduce the Constabulary’s annual revenue costs and enables it to deliver a service which is affordable and, most importantly, acceptable to the public.
When the Government invited me to put up council tax, because they said there would be no increase from central funds, it was to enable the Constabulary to beef-up neighbourhood policing, child protection and equip all frontline officers and staff with body worn cameras. Recruitment of extra officers and staff is underway and the cameras should be available by the autumn.
These costs come out of the revenue budget or what the Constabulary spends on its day to day running; what you might call the household budget. Dipping into reserves for this would be foolish and like raiding the family silver.
*You can find out more about the Constabulary budget and strategy regarding reserves on the OPCC website here.