It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the recently announced budget promises to increase funding for UK police forces. As one of the government’s core promises to the public, plans are in motion to bring in an additional 20,000 police officers over the next few years, the only question was how the funds would be phased in. In the most recent budget, chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined plans to invest an additional £750m in the police budget, beginning the first round of recruitment, however these plans were already announced in the previous spending review in 2019.
The figures from the previous spending review put total police funding at £15.2bn, an increase of £1.1bn from the previous year, representing an increase of around 10% in spending for Police and Crime Commissioners to fulfil one of the government’s primary commitments. Around 6,000 officers are expected to be recruited by March 2021, with the remaining posts likely filled by 2023-24.
As internal and external threats to the UK continue to evolve, the budget is allocating an additional £114m for counter-terrorism in 2020-21. Of this figure, £83m will go towards counter-terrorism policing in addition to the government’s recruitment funding plans, and the remaining £31m will go to the UK intelligence community. The UK intelligence community will also receive an additional £67m funding package to support the development of its technology capabilities.
Police forces have faced increasing scrutiny over the past few years as cyber-crimes continue to grow in threat and frequency, with departments lacking the necessary skills to tackle this growing problem. As police commissioners are promised this additional financial support will come as welcome news for both police departments and technologies, with bigger budgets come more opportunities.
Amid a global pandemic currently sweeping through the nation, emergency services will be put under increasing pressure, police forces could be called away from their usual duties to assist with combating this new virus, COVID-19. The current Airwave network will no doubt be working at critical limit in the coming weeks, and so will other critical communications networks and control rooms. This could mean that there will be additional support required from technology suppliers. There is no mention of any additional funds for the long-awaited Emergency Services Network (ESN).
This pandemic has come at a bad time for police forces which, though already short-staffed and under-resourced, are expected to take on additional duties in combating this virus. Of course, they will benefit from the newly available funds going towards recruiting officer over the coming years, but forces will need that support now, not in a few years.
Technology suppliers may suffer in the short-term, as police departments hold off on significant technology procurement for the moment and focus on the emergency response to COVID-19 with the additional funding promised in this year’s budget. Police forces have struggled in the past to engage in effective digital collaboration, sharing data and working at attempts to improve interoperability. With ESN no closer to deployment and no additional funding toward it, it may well see yet another delay while the current system trudges on. Now is surely the time to place all hands on deck to ensure data sharing is operating at peak efficiency, where large-scale use of CCTV-based social tracking could be increasingly leveraged to identify community clusters that could cause rapid increases in new daily infections.
However, there will certainly be opportunities for in the medium term, as the crisis stretches the police and emergency services to the limit, emphasizing the need for investment, and as the number of police officers starts to rise again.