“Clearly, the bill for the Metropolitan police force for the past few days will be large and, if they continue to deploy in those numbers, it will get larger and the Treasury will stand behind that.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, 11 August 2011, House of Commons
After the funeral of Mark Duggan today, whose death sparked the riots a month ago, FactCheck understands that police forces from Cornwall to Northumbria will finally leave the capital – ending four weeks of unprecedented extra support for the Metropolitan Police.
FactCheck has learned that up to 25 police forces from across the country still have officers in London supporting the Met’s riot operation. And while Theresa May’s ban on all leave for Met officers has been lifted, the Met admits their overtime schedule is still not back to normal.
Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the current cost of overtime and extra police officers for the recent public disorder stands at £74m for the Met, and it’s climbing – plenty of forces haven’t billed the Met yet.
The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, MP Keith Vaz, said we need to find out what the PM meant by “standing behind” the police.
Will the Treasury pay up, or will the onus be on the hard-hit police budgets? FactCheck investigates.
Tim Hollis, chief constable of Humberside Police, told the Select Committee on Tuesday that he still had officers in London, and that his bean counters are “very interested in what interpretation should be put on what should be borne by forces in normal costs of events and contingency funds, and what will come from central government”.
FactCheck understands that as of last Sunday the Met was still being supported by more than 600 officers from: Avon and Somerset, Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon & Cornwall, Durham, Dyfed Powys, Gloucester, Gwent, Hampshire, Humberside, Merseyside, Norfolk, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, South Wales, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Surrey, West Mercia and West Yorkshire.
That’s a quarter of the Met’s original call for 2,400 extra officers in the first few days of the riots to bump up their number to 16,000. Meanwhile, FactCheck understands that of the £74m bill for extra policing, just under half of it is owed to other forces for their officers. However the rest is for paying the Met’s own boys in blue overtime.
The Met’s not the only force facing a vast overtime bill. Sir Hugh is worried that Leicestershire Police has had to dip into its contingency fund to pay its officers overtime.
Leicestershire Police told FactCheck that its contingency fund holds just £1m of emergency cash. That’s the same amount that has been cut from its budget, which has been reduced to £43.1m this year.
Battling its own riots, Leicestershire couldn’t spare any officers for the Met until more recently – when it dispatched some to help with the Notting Hill Carnival. And now it is owed money for that.
A Home Office spokesman told FactCheck that the government “has made clear that it will support the police”.
But “standing by” and “supporting” does not spell footing the bill.
In reality, the Home Office told FactCheck: “Special grants will be considered where force additional costs exceed a minimum of 1 per cent of the Force annual budget. Police authorities would be expected to have made provision for a minimum of the initial one per expenditure.”
In the Met’s case, 1 per cent of its budget is £36m.
The PM has promised to pick up the tab for the riot damages – which are estimated to exceed £200m. But amid all the broken glass is a broken promise. Despite talk of standing behind the police, Mr Cameron has made no assurance that the government will swallow the cost of all those extra man hours.
As Sir Hugh said: “There are no promises to date that this (extra cost) will be met – there are rules around what you can claim in exceptional circumstances, but a case has to be made and it’s a matter for individual police chiefs to make them.”
With more than half of England and Wales’ police forces still supporting the Met a month after the riots began, the £74m bill for London is only going to get bigger.
At this stage, the Met will have to pay an absolute minimum of £36m – and while the Met is hopeful, there is no concrete assurance that the government will pay off the rest of the bill in its entirety, if at all.
While £36m might sound a small amount for a force with a budget of £3.6bn; it’s a budget that is grappling with cuts of £109m this year alone. Mr Johnson has had to plunder £42m from London’s council tax and fire brigade pot just to keep officer numbers up.
With no spare cash sloshing around, this bill could slash the Met’s contingency fund of £70.6m in half – an emergency pot that’s taken years to build up, and as FactCheck notes, has flatlined in the last year.
By Emma Thelwell