Historic bid to hold council tax referendum to raise extra £4.5 million for policing

L13-1218 Amanda Dodwell handing petition to PCC Olly Martins, Leighton Buzzard Police station, Hockliffe road.'Amanda Devlin'JR 42'12.10.13 ENGPNL00120141002141229
L13-1218 Amanda Dodwell handing petition to PCC Olly Martins, Leighton Buzzard Police station, Hockliffe road.'Amanda Devlin'JR 42'12.10.13 ENGPNL00120141002141229

Beds Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins is set to launch a bid to increase the force’s share of the council tax bill to pay for 100 extra police officers. He will become the first PCC to trigger a local referendum on the amount of money paid towards local policing, giving the public a real voice in local policing decisions.

If the public vote ‘YES’ it will enable the cash-stricken Beds Police Force to recruit 100 extra police officers.

Last night (Thursday, February 6), members of Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Panel cleared the way for the Commissioner to implement his budget plans for the coming year, which include a 15.8 per cent increase in the portion of the council tax paid towards policing.

Mr Martins’ proposals would see a Band D household paying an additional 48p a week in council tax, in a move that will raise £4.5m. This money will be used to restore police constables to Neighbourhood Policing Teams across the county, with 20 officers going to Bedford ,30 officers going to Central Bedfordshire, and 25 to Luton. Another 25 will be trained to tackle the emerging risks of cyber-enabled crime and child-sexual exploitation.

Mr Martins said: “It’s reassuring that the Panel appreciate the financial predicament facing Bedfordshire Police within three short years if we don’t do something now. Doing nothing is not an option.

“It’s absolutely right that the public have the deciding vote, but obviously I hope that they will vote for 100 extra police officers who will help provide the increased police visibility that they have called for. Currently support for ‘YES’ is running at well over 50 per cent on my own surveys.”

The Commissioner is setting a revenue budget of £104.606m for 2015/16 which results in an annual increase in Council Tax of £24.80 a year for a Band D property. This 15.8 per cent rise is well above the two per cent maximum threshold set by the Government before a local referendum has to be held.

Although the increase will come into effect from April 1, it will be subject to the outcome of the referendum which the rules say must be held on the same day as the General Election on May 7.

“The public quite rightly expects to see officers out on patrol protecting them and this is something that has become inextricably linked to their feelings of safety,” said Mr Martins.

“The sad truth is we would need many more officers than those currently proposed to safely meet the demand placed on our services from criminality. But my motives for pursuing this rise are not just about boosting Neighbourhood Policing across the county, it will also secure the long-term future of Bedfordshire Police in the face of further reductions in our central funding and the drastic underfunding that has already taken place over the years.

“No-one welcomes extra outlay, but when people understand that this modest cash rise will fund extra physical police officers with the full range of powers to protect their communities then it is much easier to see the value in the approach.”

> Currently, the amount of money raised through council tax in Bedfordshire is the third lowest in England and Wales. The Force has also suffered historically from underfunding as a result of the Government’s funding formula, which does not take into account the risk and threats facing the county. Analysis shows that there are 38 crimes recorded annually in Bedfordshire for each police officer, against a national average of 29 crimes per officer. Despite this, Bedfordshire Police officers still have the 11th best performance for detecting crime at the same time as being one of the lowest cost forces per head of population.

The additional officers this budget incorporates will mark a return to the original neighbourhood policing model introduced in 2005 and will deliver for of the visible police presence that the public support.