Police chief recommends raising council tax to fund force

Olly Martins.
Olly Martins.

Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins has set out how he intends to protect frontline policing and tackle the funding gap faced by the Force in future years in a report published today (January 29).

The Commissioner will present his budget proposals to the Police and Crime Panel when it meets on February 6,.

His financial plans have had to take into account this year’s 4.8 per cent reduction inflicted on the Force’s main policing grant from the Government and the need to find £8.5m in efficiency savings over the next two years. This is on top of the £15m already saved over the last three years.

Taking this into account, and based on the best available information, the Commissioner is currently recommending a revenue budget of £101,691 million for 2014/15, which entails a small increase in the amount of Council Tax paid for policing.

However, on the basis that the Government has not announced any information in relation to the increase in Council Tax that would lead to a referendum, he is still waiting to hear whether the Government agrees that Bedfordshire has a more pressing case for flexibility about any increase and will lift the referendum limit for this year.

If the Panel agrees, the current recommendation would see a small rise of about 6p a week for a Band D household. The maximum increase envisaged is less than 9p a week.

This rise is designed to protect performance, sustain frontline policing and make progress towards the goals set out in the Commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan while also safeguarding the Force’s financial position in future years.

Commissioner Martins said: “The referendum threshold is effectively a cap because the costs involved in holding one fall on the police budget. The Government is making life awkward for PCCs and councils by not announcing the threshold until the eleventh hour.

“But whilst I don’t relish increasing the amount local people have to pay towards policing, especially when many families are struggling financially, a small increase will help to protect frontline policing and the financial position we are in means that I need to maximise every available resource to do that.”

The Commissioner explained that the fragility of the Force’s financial predicament, and the extensive work already undertaken in order to drive out savings, were highlighted in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which said: “The force is fast approaching the position where it has exhausted the options it has for reducing its costs. There are very limited opportunities to further reduce expenditure after March 2015 without resorting to making significant cuts to frontline local policing. There is a danger that the service to the public will suffer as a result”

He continued, saying: “Our financial plight is well-rehearsed and therefore I have to do the very best I can with every tool at my disposal. Public feedback over the past year strongly indicates that, perhaps uniquely, people are willing to pay a bit more towards policing.

“The Chief Constable and I have worked very hard with the public to develop a Police and Crime Plan that reflects what they tell us they want to see and this budget is designed to deliver it. The plan focuses on three key areas, policing visibility, victim satisfaction and crime prevention - which in itself leads to fewer victims and less demand on police resources. We are also working hard to reduce costs and increase resilience through our joint working with other forces.”

The Commissioner has once again set a budget for his own office that is less than the budget for the previous police authority, even though his role is a larger one.