South Yorkshire Police has failed to slash its costs in line with Government funding cuts - leaving a £9.6 million gap.
It is one of five police forces which will struggle to cope with future budget cuts, according to a new report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The annual ‘value of policing’ report, published today, examines the state of policing budgets in England and Wales and says the majority of forces have adapted well to Government spending cuts, which will take a 20 per cent hit to budgets by 2015.
But the HMIC said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ with ‘missed opportunities’ to drive major efficiencies in some forces, while others would struggle to accommodate future cutbacks - identifying forces in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire as facing a battle to provide ‘high-quality service’ to the public.
Zoe Billingham, HM inspector of constabulary, said: “We have found a considerable variation in the approaches taken by forces - and in some cases this leaves us with concerns about how some forces will manage in the face of further cuts.
“We also have some concerns that neighbourhood policing risks being eroded as forces change how they deliver local policing.”
The report says South Yorkshire Police had not ‘achieved savings seen elsewhere’.
South Yorkshire Police was set a target of saving £49.3 million between March 2011 and 2015, but has only found ways of saving £39.6 million so far.
The HMIC report says South Yorkshire Police faces a particularly difficult challenge because the amount of money it spends on policing is lower than most other forces, yet it has a higher number of staff so has a comparatively high pay bill.
By March 2015 the force expects to have lost 256 police officers - nine per cent of all its bobbies, which the HMIC report says is smaller reduction than in most other forces.
HM Inspector of Constabulary for the Northern Region, Roger Baker, said: “South Yorkshire Police faces a more difficult challenge than some other forces. Although spending on policing is lower than in most forces and staff costs higher, South Yorkshire Police has not embraced the level of change or achieved the savings seen elsewhere.
“The force still has £9.6 million to find by March 2015. HMIC is concerned that this outstanding financial gap means that South Yorkshire Police will find it very hard to make any further savings required in the future.
“HMIC will continue to monitor the force for the remainder of the spending review period.”
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “South Yorkshire Police acknowledges the scale of the financial challenge facing the force, as highlighted by the report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
“From the summer of 2010 it was plain that the public sector finances were facing major difficulties and work began then in anticipation that policing would be facing very severe cuts.
“Faced with needing to make savings of nearly £50 million from our overall policing budget between 2011 and 2015, we have worked hard since that time to identify ways of removing cost from the organisation whilst protecting front line services, continuing to drive down crime rates and enhance public satisfaction.
“To date, as the HMIC report acknowledges, we have identified some £40 million worth of the total £50 million of savings required, by reducing the overall number of police officers and staff, by working in collaborative arrangements with Humberside Police and other partner organisations, and by undertaking a major restructure of how we deliver a number of services.
“Further, detailed plans are now being developed to find not just the final £9 million shortfall by the end of March 2015, but in anticipation that there will be tough years for some time thereafter.
“Our Criminal Investigation Department and other specialist departments are about to be restructured to enhance service but at a reduced cost, and we have plans to completely redesign how local policing services will operate in the coming years.
“We are confident, with the support of the Police and Crime Commissioner and with our partner bodies, that we will not only deliver all the savings required, but will adapt to this age of austerity in way that places public safety and satisfaction at the heart of the future policing model in South Yorkshire.”