The Metropolitan Police are facing renewed budget pressures due to the financial impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, London Assembly Members (AMs) heard today, which the Mayor’s Deputy for Policing and Crime said “cannot help but have an impact on the safety of Londoners”.
Sophie Linden, who is responsible for Sadiq Khan’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC), told the Assembly’s police and crime committee that a combination of loss of income and higher than expected expenditure, added to a savings programme that was already underway, means that “we are looking at about £109 million worth of savings over two years”.
Reductions in funding from Mayor Khan’s share of Council Tax and Business Rates are expected to entail making £45 million of short-term “in-year savings”, Linden said, although the Mayor has recently decided to draw on financial reserves to reduce the final amount lost during financial year 2020/21 by half.
At the same time, the Met is anticipating having to spend “around £50 million over the year” more than it had planned to on running its operations, primarily due to additional overtime payments, expenditure on personal protective equipment (PPE) and loss of income from organisations that purchase Met services, such as airports, boroughs and Transport for London, the committee heard.
Linden said requests to the government to reimburse the Met for the extra spending has so far produced only “an indication” that the projected £9.9 million spent on PPE will be forthcoming. She added that there has also been a need to help organisations that deliver services commissioned by the Met to adjust to the new circumstances created by the coronavirus, such as meeting an increase in demand for domestic abuse support.
Chairing the committee, Conservative AM Susan Hall asked what steps were being taken by the Met and MOPAC to make budgets “more sustainable in the medium term”. Linden said the government, which provides the bulk of Met funding, is being lobbied to provide “multi-year budget setting” to enable better forward planning. She also expects savings from the continued sale of Met-owned property and land.
Robin Wilkinson, the Met’s Chief of Corporate Services, echoed Linden in saying that planning for next financial year is being hampered by uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the government’s overall spending review, due later this year. And though “very, very optimistic” that money to recruit more officers will be forthcoming, following the recent successful recruitment of an additional 1,369 thanks to new government cash, Wilkinson underlined the need for accompanying funds to support these newcomers and said that hopes of accelerating taking on a further 600 this year have been dashed by the need for the £45 million in-year savings.
Assuring Hall and the committee that the Met is exploring possible cost efficiencies across the board, Wilkinson explained that if substantial spending reductions do have to be made, these will have to come to from areas such as officer training and career development or services such as 999 and 101, forensics expertise including crime scene work, intelligence gathering and provisions for holding people in custody. Wilkinson stressed that these things are “for us, very frontline services”, even though not protected in the way the budget for employing officers is.
Hall queried why not all the money allocated to the Violence Reduction Unit announced by the Mayor in September 2018 has been spent in either year of its existence, while at the same time cuts to its budgets have been ruled out.
Linden said that Covid has slowed the process of funding schemes designed to preventively address violent crime at its roots, and her colleague Jo Moore, MOPAC’s Interim Chief Finance Officer, emphasised that it takes time to identify the best ways to spend the funds, which are often to cover periods of two or three years.
“It’s really important that we don’t just get money out the door, that we do demonstrate value for money,” Moore said. “The Violence Reduction Unit is really targeting different approaches [and] we need to be really clear that the outcomes we want are going to be achieved before we give money to providers.” Moore added that Linden has recently made a number of decisions about funding allocations enabling more spending to go ahead.
A webcast of the Budget and Performance Committee meeting in full is here. This article was updated on 23 September 2020 to add a little additional material from the meeting.
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