Ministers do not know what effect funding cuts have had on police forces, the UK’s public spending watchdog says.
According to the National Audit Office, the Home Office does not know whether the police system in England and Wales is “financially sustainable”.
It calls the approach to police funding “ineffective” and “detached” from the changing demands faced by officers.
A Home Office spokesman said the department had conducted a substantial review of police pressures last year.
However, the Home Office had not even forecasted the effect of losing 44,000 police officers and staff since 2010, the NAO found.
The report comes as Home Secretary Sajid Javid prepares for a speech to police superintendents in which he will say the police must be equipped for a changing landscape.
On Monday, the leader of the superintendents’ association warned the service was on the verge of a crisis.
Police forces in England and Wales are funded through a £12.3bn combination of a central grant to each police and crime commissioner, as well as additional cash raised locally through the council tax and one-off grants for special projects.
The NAO says the amount coming from the government is down 30% in real terms since 2010-11, with some areas losing more than others, depending on how much funding each force receives directly from the Home Office.
“The Home Office has employed a light touch in its oversight of the 43 police forces in England and Wales and what that means is it does not really understand the nature of the demand facing those police forces,” the NAO’s Tom McDonald said.
“The other side of the problem is that the funding formula they have used to allocate money is out of date.
“The Home Office told Parliament in 2015 that the formula was ineffective. Here we are, three years later, and there has not been an update and so it’s unlikely that the money is going to the right places. We have real concerns about it.”
Analyisis: By Dominic Casciani, Home Affairs Correspondent
This report from the national spending watchdog paints a picture of a service on the front line of public protection under severe pressure – but nobody in government being entirely sure how much pressure it is really under. The assessors said that while no force was about to financially fail, the stress was apparent.
Since two years ago, officers are taking four days longer to charge suspects – an indication of workload rather than rising crime – and there is less “proactive work”, such as motorway stops of dangerous drivers, breathalyser tests and convictions for drug possession.
The rolling national crime survey has charted rising dissatisfaction with the police – and many communities have campaigned against losing local cuts. Two cities – St Albans and Bath – no longer have a dedicated police station with a front desk.
A Home Office plan to revise the police funding formula, to more fairly distribute funds, was mothballed following the March 2017 general election.
The NAO said individual forces had been developing their own ways of predicting demand for their services but the Home Office itself had “no overarching strategy for policing”.
But a Home Office spokesman disputed some of the NAO’s findings – saying it had “a strategic direction” and last year conducted a substantial review of police pressures.
“Our decision to empower locally accountable police and crime commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean that we do not understand the demands on police forces,” said the spokesman.
“The report does not recognise the strengths of PCCs and chief constables leading on day-to-day policing matters, including on financial sustainability.
“We remain committed to working closely with police and delivered a £460m increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax,” the spokesman said.