Policing bills go up by maximum amount in County Durham amid fears officer numbers would otherwise need to be cut
Residents of County Durham and Darlington are expected to see their bills rise further to help fund policing.
Central Government recently confirmed that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) can increase the precept in council tax by up to £15 annually.
The office of Durham’s Police, Crime & Victims’ Commissioner (PCVC) has been consulting on a maximum increase to help fund more police officers for Durham Constabulary, as well as upgrading the force’s control room.
Extra cash raised through the precept also aims to help the force to invest in technology infrastructure, new police community support officers (PCSOs) and some additional jobs around domestic abuse and cyber crime.
The maximum precept was agreed by the region’s Police and Crime Panel on Thursday, February 4, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
It would mean an average Band D property paying an extra £15 a year for policing in 2021/22 and ‘commensurate increases’ for other properties.
Band A and Band B properties would see annual increases of £10 and £11.67 respectively.
Acting PCVC Steve White said that despite issues of poverty and hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of PCCs were proposing a maximum precept rise.
A public consultation on the proposals for Durham and Darlington also demonstrated that the majority of respondents were willing to pay more for policing, members of the panel were told.
Mr White said: “An increase shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that we always want, I entirely accept that and in a perfect world, we wouldn’t always be looking at an increase or at least not above inflation.
“But the reality is in terms of the way that Durham is funded, the only increase that we can get, which includes inflationary increase, is through a precept increase.”
The PCVC added: “I don’t want to make a political point at all but the reality is, that we’re still coming out of a significant period of ten years of reduced funding for the police service against a picture of increased demand.
“You have got to square that circle somehow and certainly in terms of the amount of investment that we’re currently looking at within the force and on information technology, it’s really frustrating that we didn’t do this five years ago.”
He went on: “What is it that they say, when is the best time to plant a tree? 30 years ago, the second best time is now.
“What we’ve got within the force, we’re very fortunate that we have been judged as being one of the most efficient and effective forces in the country.
“That doesn’t come by accident.
“We need to maintain that ability to innovate and to continue to provide the service that people need.”
Some members of the Police and Crime Panel raised concerns about the precept rise impacting on people with financial issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, questions were also raised about what impact a smaller precept increase, such as a £10 annual raise for a Band D property, would have on police finances.
Mr White said the impact on the budget in future years would be “quite significant.”
He said: “I wanted to speak about what if we didn’t raise [the precept] by £15, what if we raised it by £10 and indeed I have asked that question of the force.
“The reality is a cumulative loss because of course whilst we only deal in one-year settlements, it has an impact.
“So whatever we don’t increase it by this year then has a snowball effect.”
He added: “The reality is that we would look at potentially the loss of 30 PCSOs, so that’s about 20%, we would potentially look at not being able to meet our targets around the number of police officers that we would have, because don’t forget the uplift only pays for their salaries, we have got to pay for everything else.
“We would probably have to hold police staff vacancies and potentially lose police staff vacancies, which at a time of significant fiscal issues and job losses across the county, I don’t think would be good.”
In response to a question about the option of using reserves in an “exceptional circumstance” this year, Mr White said it would “leave an even bigger hole in the reserves going forward” and place the force in deficit “a lot earlier.”
Following discussion, members of the Police and Crime Panel approved the precept rise with a majority vote.
This included nine votes in favour and three against.
Durham Constabulary recently submitted a planning application to build a £21million centralised custody facility, however PCVC Mr White stressed that this proposal will not be funded from a rise in the precept.