The Home Office is making deep cuts to the police service without understanding their effects, the Government's spending watchdog has said.
In a critical report the National Audit Office argued that ministers did not have enough information to understand the effects of their own policies.
“The [Home Office] has insufficient information to determine how much further it can reduce funding without degrading services or when it may need to support individual forces,” the report said.
The report noted that police funding had been cut by 18 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2016 and that “significant” further cuts were expected.
But the NAO said ministers would not be able to recognise signs that might appear if police services were about to grind to a halt.
The watchdog noted that local circumstances in individual forces were being ignored by the department and recommended a review of funding formulas.
Some police forces receive more of their funding from central government than others and are harder hit by Whitehall spending restraint.
Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, the lead for performance management at the National Police Chiefs' Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the report was right to point to a lack of information.
“I think there is undoubtedly a gap around our knowledge and indeed the Home Office's knowledge of the demand that we face,” he said. “This report quite properly says we need more clarity on that.”
Police Federation chairman Steve White argued that falling crime figures did not necessarily validate the Home Office’s approach.
“Ministers point to falling crime rates as evidence the service is coping, however they are basing this argument on a false premise," he said.
“Crime stats neither take account of all crime – some of which is on the rise - but nor do they take account of all the other vital work that officers do which doesn't fall into bald crime statistics.”
Policing Minister Mr Penning said: "There is no question that the police still have the resources to do their important work."
The warning about the nature of the cuts comes after the respected OECD organisation warns that sharp cuts early in this parliament would unnecessarily harm economic growth.
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