The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) needs to recognise that it cannot maintain 32,000 officers in its current financial situation, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
An “overly stretched” budget means the MPS will miss its target of 32,000 officers next year for the fifth year running, the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Budget and Performance Committee has found.
Both the MPS and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) insist the target is still in place but have not specified how they intend to meet it in the future.
Describing the force’s savings targets as “highly optimistic”, the GLA called on MOPAC to finally set a goal more in line with operational needs.
It also pointed out that mayor Sadiq Khan could do more to support the MPS by moving money from other parts of his budget.
Committee chair Gareth Bacon said the MPS and MOPAC “need to be realistic” over officer numbers going forward.
A spokesperson added: “We have branded the 32,000 target as problematic in the past. We maintain this view… the target has become too politicised and one that political figures debate frequently but has little relevance to operational needs.
“Police officer numbers should become an operational decision.”
Seventy per cent of the MPS’s £3.27 billion budget comes from Home Office grants and 20 per cent is provided by MOPAC.
The force has already taken £600 million out of its budget but will have to find another £443 million by 2020/21 just to maintain its current position.
The MPS has accepted that it will struggle to deliver its Policing and Crime Plan and Commissioner Cressida Dick has warned that some services will have to be reduced.
It suggested it could meet some of this requirement by selling more properties and driving more IT efficiencies – but must still find more than £185 million even if its plans work out exactly as intended.
The GLA report, published on Tuesday (October 10), added that the MPS has not yet delivered the savings that it has already promised and needs to take further action.
The strategic target of 32,000 officers was set by former mayor Boris Johnson in an attempt to ensure the MPS did not meet budget cuts by deliberately thinning the front line.
However, the last time the MPS had more than 32,000 officers was in July 2012 and it will miss the target again next year as £38 million has been removed from its officer budget.
Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey has indicated that the force is now modelling for 30,000 officers and this level may reduce further.
The GLA believes the target has never been properly explained and has become “a millstone around the necks of successive mayors and commissioners”.
The MPS’s budget has not been helped by the Home Office’s refusal to share details of how it plans to allocate police funding in the future.
The Government began reviewing the Police Funding Formula in 2014 but still has not published its proposed new model after the office of the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner exposed serious errors in the initial calculations.
The review was expected this summer but there is now insufficient time to introduce it for the 2018/19 financial year.
The GLA condemned the delay, claiming it has left forces including the MPS unable to produce long-term budget plans.
It also criticised the Home Office’s lack of transparency regarding its calculations as this same situation led to the collapse of the previous review.
Mr Khan has been a vocal opponent of the proposed review as he believes the MPS could lose another £700 million if funding is reorganised.
However, the GLA pointed out he could take further action by allocating more money from other income areas.
It also recognised that the MPS is underfunded for the cost of policing an international capital city and Home Office rules prevent it from accessing the Police Special Grant for large-scale disasters.
The GLA recommended Mr Khan lobby the Home Office for multi-year grant settlements and highlight the Home Office’s lack of transparency regarding the funding formula.
It added that he should consider petitioning to ensure the MPS can access the Police Special Grant.
The report was welcomed by Mr Khan and Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Sophie Lindon, who thanked it for highlighting the “desperate need for the Government to properly fund the Met”.
She added: “Sadiq has done everything possible to provide additional funds for the Met – increasing the council tax precept by the maximum amount possible.
“He is taking extremely difficult decisions in order to protect officer numbers including consulting on proposals to close around half of London’s front counters.”
A MPS spokesperson said: “In recent years the MPS has managed to maintain officer numbers above 30,000 despite making savings of £600 million.
“The crime picture has evolved and so must we in the way we police, recruit and operate. We are managing an increased demand across areas as a result of societal changes such as child protection, mental health and missing people.
“We are aware that a number of improvements have taken place since the report has been compiled and we look forward to reviewing and discussing the recommendations in due course with the committee.”