‘Risk’ fears as police reserves are raided

BUDGET: Bill Longmore.

BUDGET: Bill Longmore.

First published in News

POLICE chiefs are to raid the reserves by £10 million to help plug gaping holes in the budget – leading to fears they are taking a risk.

Bill Longmore, the police and crime commissioner for West Mercia, wants to use cash from the ‘rainy day’ pot to balance his books between now and 2015.

Pressure to cut budgets from central government, as well as a decision to freeze the police’s portion of the council tax bill, has left a gaping black hole in the force’s finances.

The reserves pot, which has £22 million in it at the moment, will be raided by £3.5m in April, £2.4m next year and £4.3m in 2015/16.

The reserves fund is designed to be used in emergencies, as a last resort to solve financial problems.

The move was debated during a meeting of the police and crime panel at County Hall, where some politicians backed it while others said it was a risk.

Councillor Roger Hollingworth said: “Looking at this budget we are spending reserves that were built up over a long period of time despite admitting it is a risk.

“I don’t believe we should be using our reserves to help fund areas of the plan for the next three years.”

Others said it was the right move as the force is already cutting £21 million from the budget by 2015/16, and without using the reserves even more would need to be slashed.

Councillor Adrian Hardman said: “I think he’s doing entirely the right thing here – the ratio of reserves we have is perfectly adequate and while I do see how some members think he’s taking a risk, this is existing taxpayers’ money that is sitting in reserves for entirely this purpose.

“It is the right strategy to take.”

Dave Clarke, chief finance officer for the PCC office, said: “There are always additional risks that come along and use of the reserves is always sensitive.

“But at this point the reserves are very healthy, so the question is, do we use it to help policing or keep it in reserves for perpetuity?”

He said it was a “prudent” approach and would still leave enough in the pot to cover other emergency costs as they emerge.

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