Police officers have clocked up £3.8 billion in overtime over the past 10 years, with more than a quarter of this spent by the Metropolitan Police alone, a study has found.
Research by the Policy Exchange thinktank claims that spending in some forces is “out of control”.
The figures come after Home Secretary Theresa May warned the force that police officers must accept pay cuts if they want to avoid losing thousands of frontline jobs.
The analysis shows that annual overtime bills peaked in 2007/08 when costs for forces in England and Wales totalled more than £437 million, before falling slightly to £382 milion last year.
Some forces did better than others in reducing their overtime costs. Surrey, Wiltshire, Lincolnshire, and Cumbria all reduced the amount that they spent between 2000/01 and 2009/10, with Surrey’s average bill per officer falling by £864, a decrease of more than a quarter.
Around £1 billion was spent by the Met over the past 10 years, with every officer picking up an average of £4,271 in overtime in 2010.
Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange, said: “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. Police officers should only be paid for overtime when it is absolutely necessary and appropriate.”
The analysis suggests ways in which overtime costs can be brought down, including the need to embed overtime management into each organisation.
“Those forces which have yet to introduce effective controls on their overtime spend should study their counterparts to learn good practice and to ensure policing resources are not misspent,” the report advises.