New research shows that rural forces seem set to lose out financially as Government thinking is skewed in favour of urban areas.

The report, commissioned by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), of which the Countryside Alliance is a member, calls on the Government to take a long hard look at the criteria for allocating police funding, which as proposed would disadvantage rural forces, particularly those with sparse populations.

Currently, the Government appears to favour using the number of crimes recorded in an area as the principal basis for allocating money. This means funding would be disproportionately influenced by volume crimes such as shoplifting. By definition, there are far more of these crimes in urban areas than in rural ones. However, such crimes are not an accurate measure of policing demand and do not reflect the growing complexity or unique challenges faced by rural areas.

Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance says: “ The Government’s current approach to allocating funding to police forces disadvantages rural forces and benefits those which have large populations and high volumes of thefts, and fails to reflect the complex nature of policing more sparsely populated areas. During these uncertain times post Brexit it is more important than ever that the voice of rural communities is heard and rural forces are properly and fairly funded.

The research, led by Professor Sheena Asthana of the University of Plymouth, says Government thinking relies too heavily on population and crime counts both of which favour urban forces.

“The Government’s approach appears to sacrifice fairness in pursuit of simplicity,” she said.

“We think a fresh start is needed and that any new approach needs to use a different methodology and draw on different data if it is to achieve a fair system for distributing funds.”

The report Fair Funding for Rural Policing: Report to the NRCN, June 2016 also highlights that rural forces face additional burdens that must be factored into funding:

•Rural forces often have to ‘plug the gap’ left by other services such as health and social care whose services can be stretched in isolated areas. Additional responsibilities linked to people with mental health difficulties are particularly noticeable, especially with regard to dementia and missing person cases due to elderly populations.

•Rural forces have to shoulder the cost of significantly higher round-trip distances when attending incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour as well as to road traffic incidents.

•As rural forces tend to have lower officer numbers, the burden per officer is up to 65 per cent higher than for forces nationally, representing an additional challenge for delivering services as well as posing risks to officer and staff welfare.

•Rural forces, particularly those with coastal areas and tourist attractions such as National Parks, experience larger seasonal variations in incidents of crime, ASB and road traffic incidents due to influxes of holiday-makers.

“This robust and detailed report provides evidence of the underlying reasons why basing police funding on the number of recorded crimes is misleading and sets out the extra challenges rural forces face in meeting the needs of communities typically under resourced by other providers too – including social care, health and the third sector,” said Julia Mulligan, chair of the NRCN.

“Demands on rural forces differ to those of urban forces and a funding formula is needed that reflects that variation and provides for such differing requirements.

“Above all, the important thing is for all forces to feel confident that the funding they receive is fair and reflects underlying need rather than a crude calculation that is loaded in favour of urban areas.”