Police overtime costs up due to staff shortages

Police officers in high-viz jackets

Some UK police forces are using overtime to cover gaps caused by staff shortages, BBC Radio 5 live has found.

One Met Police officer received an overtime payment of £45,000 last year, a Freedom of Information request found.

The overtime bill for officers and staff in England and Wales totalled almost £1bn over three years and went up by £6m last year.

The Home Office said the government had "already taken steps to reduce unnecessary overtime payments".

"We have asked the independent Police Remuneration Review Body to consider whether more can be done on this issue," said a spokesman.

"Police officers' pay should reflect the difficult work they do - but the public rightly expects that this is not abused."

The National Police Chiefs' Council said it was "only right" that officers should be compensated for overtime.


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By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

"Overtime does not go sick or take leave."

That pithy phrase, from Tim Godwin, the former Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, sums up the usefulness of overtime to a service that has to cope with sudden and unexpected events.

Whether it's the surveillance officer monitoring a terrorism suspect, the detective constable deployed on a murder investigation, or the civilian staff employee answering calls after hours because a colleague has gone home ill - overtime has a valuable part to play.

Sir Tom Winsor's review recognised that, while also recommending changes designed to reduce the overall bill.

The year-on-year increase, identified by 5 live's research, does not mean that work has stalled.

But it's interesting to note that some overtime payments appear to be connected to staff shortages.

As the police workforce shrinks further, it may well be that existing officers and staff are increasingly asked to plug the gaps.

'For the Queen'

Figures for 39 forces in England and Wales show the overtime bill rose from £307.1m in 2013/14 to £313.2m in 2014/15.

The Metropolitan Police accounted for about a third of the overall bill, while in two other forces, Bedfordshire and Cleveland, the overtime bill went up by 50% - explained in part by gaps in recruitment.

The Met said officers earning the highest amounts were in specialist roles, where working time was determined by the operational circumstances.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Police increased staffing for the Nato summit held in Newport in September 2014

An officer at West Midlands Police earned £32,702 in overtime working in a contact centre.

Inspector Tony Morris from that force said "recruitment in this business area has been on hold" due to a reorganisation.

"This means the department has been carrying a significant number of vacancies, resulting in an increased need for planned overtime."

Sergeants and constables are eligible to claim overtime for working extra days, for staying on at the end of a shift, or for being recalled between shifts.

On four days each week, officers are expected to give the first 30 minutes of unplanned overtime for free, traditionally referred to as "half an hour for the Queen".

Three years ago, Sir Tom Winsor's review of policing in England and Wales called for "cultural change" to reduce the cost of overtime.

He suggested that in future, the police pay review body may consider a "buy out" for sergeants which would see them give up overtime pay in return for an increased salary.

Overtime for inspectors was "bought out" in 1994.

Cuts regime

South Wales Police reported the biggest percentage increase for overtime spending in the last year, from £5.2m in 2013/14 to £8.4m in 2014/15.

The force said the majority of that increase was due to the Nato summit in September 2014, which involved 9,500 officers from across the UK, including 1,500 from South Wales.

But in Scotland and Northern Ireland the figures were down on the previous year.

Police Scotland spent £18.2m on overtime in 2014/15, a reduction of £6m on the previous year.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland also spent less, down by £11.5m from £59.2m in 2013/14 to £47.7m in 2014/15.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "Overtime is called upon when it is essential to maintain operational effectiveness and, in the context of capital city policing and national responsibilities, there are times when there is a genuine need to call on officers to work beyond their scheduled hours to police unforeseen events, to provide security, or public reassurance."

The force said the London Olympic and Paralympic Games had a particular impact on its overtime bill for 2012/13 - when forces in England and Wales spent a total of £354.9m.

Chief Constable Francis Habgood from the National Police Chiefs' Council said: "Overtime is a very flexible - and can be a very cost-effective - way of managing unexpected demand and it is only right that officers whose lives are disrupted by a last-minute order to work an extended tour of duty or work on a rest day are compensated for that disruption.

"With the current cuts regime, we are doing all we can to ensure that the police service offers the best value for taxpayers' money and all forces have reduced overtime spend in recent years."

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