The Home Office has recently released the latest data on its plan to recruit 20,000 additional police officers by March 2023. These show the Home Office exceeded its target, with police forces recruiting 20,951 additional officers.1
We published our report on this topic – the £3.6 billion Police Uplift Programme – in March 2022, and found that the Home Office was running a good, focused programme. We concluded that, within the narrow scope set for the programme, it was on course to achieve value for money. But we also noted that, however well the programme was run, recruiting 20,000 additional officers will not by itself achieve the desired outcomes. Ultimately, the programme’s success will be judged on the impact it has on strengthening the ability of police forces to reduce crime, improve public safety and adapt to changing demands.
Our report identified a number of issues that will influence whether these outcomes are achieved:
- At the outset of the programme, the Home Office had poor data on the demands facing policing and used an outdated and discredited funding formula to allocate the new officers to police forces. It’s therefore likely that new officers were not allocated where the need was greatest. Maintaining the number of neighbourhood police officers may also limit the flexibility forces have to meet changing demands, such as the growth in fraud, which now accounts for 41% of all crime.
- The Home Office expected the programme would help forces to become more representative of the communities they serve, but decided not to set an explicit target to increase diversity. We noted tensions between the need to recruit quickly and the effort required to improve diversity. This point was echoed by Baroness Casey’s March 2023 review of the Metropolitan Police, which concluded that “the Police Uplift Programme has been a missed opportunity to improve the diversity and skills base of [the Met’s] workforce”.
- Lastly, there is the challenge of managing the organisational impact of such large-scale recruitment. To increase the workforce by 20,000 while replacing officers who have retired or departure for other reasons, forces have recruited a total of 46,505 officers. The significant number of new officers dilutes the experience of the police workforce, with almost 40% of officers forecast to have fewer than five years’ experience in 2023-24. This places a greater burden on more experienced officers to help train the new recruits alongside their other duties. It is also clear that any increase in arrests and prosecutions will place greater pressure on the beleaguered Criminal Justice System.
The Home Office deserves some credit for designing, managing and successfully delivering a large-scale programme at pace, and, if forces can retain them, 20,951 additional officers will help rebuild some of the capacity lost in the preceding decade. But there is a still a way to go before we’ll see the intended benefits.
Intuitively, more police officers should help to reduce crime, though there is limited evidence to support this link. At the time of our report, the Home Office did not have a plan to evaluate the impact of the programme – it had focused on the ‘inputs’ (new police officers) rather than outcomes (crime levels and public trust). The Home Office has since committed to produce an evaluation strategy, but it will also need to support police forces in managing the issues our report identifies to secure the benefits from its significant investment in this programme.
- Provisional data published 26 April 2023, available at Police officer uplift, England and Wales, quarterly update to 31 March 2023 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)