Merseyside Police Commissioner’s proposals to balance the police budget in the face of on-going government grant cuts have been approved by the body which scrutinises her work.
The Police and Crime Panel considered Jane Kennedy’s plans to set a balanced budget following seven years of cuts and in the face of mounting inflationary pressures at a meeting earlier this week. They have now unanimously approved her proposal, while simultaneously criticising the Government for putting a “disproportionate burden” on local taxpayers.
The Commissioner’s budget plan follows the disappointing announcement in December that the police would, once again, receive no new money from the Home Office. Instead, Policing Minister Nick Hurd MP said Police and Crime Commissioners would be expected to ask local taxpayers to pay £1 a month extra on the policing precept of their council tax bill.
Following a three-week consultation with local people, at which more than three-quarters of the 2,217 respondents indicated their willingness to pay the additional money to protect police officer numbers, the Commissioner reluctantly took the decision to propose the increase in order to generate an extra £4.35m and protect 87 police officer posts.
This increase will contribute significantly, but a further £800,000 from police reserves will be used and £7m of cuts, which have already been identified, are still needed to balance the budget.
Jane said: “In a climate where everyone’s budgets are tight, asking local people to pay more in their council tax for their police service is something I do reluctantly.
“However, I was left with very little choice. The Government has made its position very clear; any additional funding to meet the unprecedented challenges facing the police service will not come from the centre, but must be asked of local people.
“If I had not made this rise, Merseyside Police would be left struggling to meet the rising demands around tackling serious and organised crime, safeguarding vulnerable children and adults, violent crime and maintaining neighbourhood policing.
“I am once again grateful to local people who have shown their overwhelming support for their police service. More than 2,200 responded to my consultation and more than 77% gave their support for this increase. It is clear local people are willing to play their part in protecting our police service to keep their communities safe. The Police and Crime Panel have also recognised the necessity of this increase and I’m grateful for their support.
“I only wish this Government had the same sense of responsibility.”
The Police and Crime Panel also voiced their concern at the approach taken by the government which had effectively tied the Commissioner’s hands. In their official report in response, Chairperson Cllr Carla Thomas wrote: “In these circumstances, the Panel felt that the Commissioner was left with no alternative but to adopt the approach being proposed. In the same vein, the Panel also felt it had no realistic option other than to support the proposal, no matter how reluctantly.
Members also echoed the Commissioner’s concern that the Government’s police funding settlement was placing a greater burden on those paying Council Tax in less affluent areas of the country, including Merseyside, adding: “When added to other proposed increases in the elements that make up a local resident’s total Council Tax bill, it was felt a disproportionate burden was being placed on those least able to pay, whose Council Tax bill comprised a substantial proportion of their monthly outgoings.
The report continued: “The Panel felt that a strong message needed to be passed onto the Government as a matter of urgency emphasising the inequitable nature of this approach to dealing with shortfalls in police funding.”
With members adding: “The Panel offered its full support to the Commissioner, and her fellow commissioners, to lobby Government in respect of this issue. The Panel also undertook to write to the Policing Minister directly on this matter, highlighting its grave concerns about the settlement and the apparent incompatibility between the minister’s public statements about the settlement and the reality of how it would play out in areas like Merseyside.
The increase reluctantly proposed by the Commissioner and approved by the Panel equates to approximately 15p a week or £8 a year for a Band A household - the lowest Council Tax category and the amount paid by the majority of tax payers on Merseyside. This would increase the police element of tax payers’ bills from £110.65 to £118.65 a year. For a Band D property, it equates to £1 a month.
Earlier this week, the Commissioner wrote to MPs across the region highlighting the impact of cuts on Merseyside Police and encouraging parliamentarians to urge ministers to better understand the reality of the Force’s situation. West Derby MP Stephen Twigg and Margaret Greenwood, for Wirral West, both raised their concerns in a debate on the police grant on Wednesday, but the cash settlement was passed in a vote by MPs.
Now the Police and Crime Panel have signalled their endorsement of the Commissioner’s plans, she will ask the region’s local authorities to implement the increase, which will come into effect from 1st April 2018.