£3.8bn police overtime in 10 years

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Police officers have pocketed £3.8 billion in overtime over the past 10 years, but Cumbria Constabulary has managed to cut its bills over the same period, a study has found.

Home Secretary Theresa May put herself on a collision course with rank-and-file officers last week when she warned that police pay cuts were “unavoidable” amid efforts to minimise frontline job losses.

A review of police pay and conditions by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor on Tuesday is expected to recommend slashing at least £180 million off annual bonuses by scrapping special priority payments handed out to selected officers at Christmas and competency threshold payments.

Three-quarters of the annual police budget, £11 billion, goes on pay, and Mrs May told forces that must change. But the Police Federation warned any cuts on top of the two-year public sector pay freeze would damage morale, adding that she “clearly undervalued” officers’ work.

The annual overtime bills peaked in 2007/08 when forces in England and Wales clocked up more than £437 million, the analysis by the Policy Exchange showed. From an annual overtime bill of £208 million in 1998/99, the total across the 43 forces more than doubled to £437 million in 2007/08, falling slightly to £382 million last year.

Police numbers rose by just 12%, excluding an additional 17,000 PCSOs, over the same period, the think-tank said.

One in three forces have managed to cut their overtime bills in the past five years compared with 2000-2005, but the average spent on each officer by two-thirds of forces has increased. Surrey, Wiltshire, Lincolnshire, and Cumbria all reduced the amount they spent on overtime over the past 10 years, with Surrey’s average bill per officer falling by £864, more than a quarter.

Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at the Policy Exchange, said: “Paying police officers overtime can makes sense in some cases, but police forces have allowed these payments to spiral out of control, with a huge amount spent over the last decade even while officer numbers have increased. Overtime payments need to be reformed so the costs to the taxpayer can be brought down.”

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said overtime was needed to enable forces “to respond flexibly to any event or crime at any time whether it be a flood, a major murder investigation or public order incident”.

Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the Acpo lead on finance and resources, said: “Overtime is paid to officers of constable or sergeant rank only and reflects the realities of modern policing - including the fact that when required, working is compulsory for police officers. There are a large majority of officers who regularly work overtime without claiming any overtime payment in order that they complete their duties and serve the public.”