Sam Chapman has over 20 years experience in policing and crime reduction and is Editor of

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Since Marx generations of communists and socialists have tried to make this work, and been met only with failure. People don’t work well when the reward they get out of the system bears little relation to the effort they put into it.

It’s odd then that this same principle should seemingly continue to dominate the thinking behind how the vast majority of public funding is to be allocated to local policing. The Home Office is currently at the tail end of a review of police funding, while simultaneously the police inspectorate is beginning to publish its PEEL assessments of how forces perform. You can see how your local force did here.

This latter document identifies, if you will, the contribution of those with ability. Those forces who have performed well, and who have prepared for the austerity that was the natural consequence of Labour overspending, get a “thank you”, but that is all. The inspectorate warns that those forces that are performing badly are ill-prepared to cope with further falls in funding. As the imminent spending review probably requires just that, the better performing forces could be nervous that any recognition of good performance would only be to punish it, as they may be judged able to suffer more than their more poorly performing brethren.

At the same time an admittedly complex funding formula is proposed to be replaced by a much simpler one, distributing what is the £7.7 billion of central government funding that makes up two-thirds of local police revenue budgets across England and Wales. Trouble is, the proposed new formula is diminished by one major failing that it shares with the old one – the obsession with measuring presumed “need” to the exclusion of everything else.

It works like this. Your police force is proposed to receive more if it has a higher population. I suspect we all understand that one. But your force will receive less if the families there have adults who work. They’ll get more for each resident who counts as “hard pressed”, but less for having larger numbers of Band D equivalent properties. Finally, they’ll get more for the number of bars they have per hectare. And that, basically, is it.

So if you want a bigger piece of the police funding pie you should push for a large workless population in lower-value housing, well-lubricated by lots of licensed premises, all of which should help them be sufficiently “hard-pressed” for you to win the police funding jackpot. If you work with partner agencies to improve employment opportunities, increase social mobility, cut down on excessive drinking, and encourage residents to climb the housing ladder, well then you can kiss goodbye to chunks of your police funding.

There is nothing to balance all those perverse incentives. In fact, how well your local force performs has not the slightest impact on how much funding it is proposed to receive. Put another way, in considering which police managers will have public resources to manage, we give absolutely no consideration to the question of which of them have shown that they are any good at it.

I suspect that many people would imagine a system of allocating public funding to policing may legitimately include an assessment of the demand that falls on forces, but would they not also expect that those performance assessments have a role too, and that a significant element of the final sum should reflect the wisdom of putting public resources in the hands of those who have already proved they can get the most value out of each taxpayer pound?

But this is a dangerous idea. The Home Office Consultation paper drew its inspiration largely from the needs estimation models in Scandinavian countries, and from ‘needs’-based models in the NHS, in schools and in local government. If we started rewarding better performance in policing, the idea could spread, and the police may have to seal off Highgate cemetery owing to the danger presented as Marx revolves in his grave.