Surrey Police could face a budget shortfall of £17 million by 2026-27 – raising the spectre of further tax hikes and service cuts in coming years.
The medium-term financial plan submitted by the force to Surrey’s police and crime panel reveals the force faces a £1.6m shortfall against its £288.7m budget in 2023-24, rising to £9.1m in 2024-25, £12.6m in 2025-26 and £17m in 2026-27.
This is after recruiting 450 additional officers and operational staff since 2019, leading Surrey’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) to claim the force “is now the biggest it has ever been”.
Surrey Police has also been hit by the cost-of-living crisis, with its vehicle fuel bill alone increasing by more than £500,000 in the past year – while the government grant funding for policing nationally has increased by only 1.8 per cent this year.
To help bridge the gap, Surrey PCC Lisa Townsend increased the force’s share of the tax bill for an average Band D home by £15 to £310.57 on April 1.
But Surrey Police’s chief finance officer told panel members in April further tax hikes of £34 over a four- to five-year period are required just to “avoid efficiencies which would adversely impact policing”.
With pressure to increase officer numbers, it is feared the axe could also fall on Surrey’s civilian staff – with trade union Unison claiming many such staff roles are already being kept vacant or have been cut altogether to save money.
Official papers show Surrey Police had 236 vacant staff posts as of April, giving it a vacancy rate of 12 per cent. And with the force staffed roughly half by civilians and half by officers, Unison claims the squeeze on civilians will undermine the government’s pledge to put more police on the streets.
This is because newly-recruited officers will need to do the work once done by police staff whose jobs have now been cut.
Unison’s south-east regional secretary Steve Torrance said: “Severe cuts to police budgets will leave many forces in the south-east unable to protect communities or bring criminals to justice.
“Policing will become that much harder and those in staff jobs will be left feeling increasingly anxious about their futures.
“With fewer police staff to investigate cases and smaller numbers of police and community support officers patrolling local neighbourhoods, there’s a risk crime rates will climb.”
Surrey PCC Lisa Townsend said: “The cost-of-living crisis is putting a huge squeeze on everyone’s finances, and the reality is that policing is being seriously impacted too. There is increased pressure on pay, energy and fuel costs and a stark rise in inflation over the past year that has placed strain on the Surrey Police budget.
“Surrey continues to receive the lowest level of central funding per head in the country from the government, and this is an issue I have raised with the Home Office.
“Surrey Police is now the biggest it has ever been, after recruiting more than 450 additional officers and operational staff since 2019.
“The number of burglaries being solved is on the increase, a huge focus has been put into making our communities safer for women and girls and Surrey Police received an outstanding rating from our inspectors on preventing crime.
“Police officer numbers are ring-fenced. But it is crucial to recognise the important work that is also carried out every day by police staff including contact officers, analysts and across other roles.
“There is a programme in place to identify where savings can be made, following £80 million that has already been achieved over the past ten years. My office are working closely with Surrey Police to ensure the public continues to receive the best service possible.”