Difficult decision to increase tax
At the end of January the Police and Crime Panel voted unanimously to support my proposal to increase the policing part of the Council Tax by just under two per cent.
It’s an increase of less than a penny each day for a Band D property, but having said that said, I really do understand any tax increase is unwelcome and I know many people are struggling to make ends meet so I’d like to reassure you it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I thought long and hard before I made this decision.
One of my primary responsibilities as your Police and Crime Commissioner is setting the annual Constabulary budget from which I then delegate to the chief constable as much of the funding as possible for operational policing across the county. Before I made this decision I listened to as many residents and businesses as possible to help me reach my conclusions. This year I also discussed the proposal at all of our public meetings during the autumn and at various business liaison meetings and seminars. And while I don’t know anyone who wants to pay more taxes, I felt nearly everyone consulted understood the reasons for increasing Council Tax. So I’d like to share with you some of my reasons.
Suffolk has a deserved reputation as one of the safest counties in which to live and work, and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies (HMIC) ranks the constabulary’s performance in the top 20 per cent. For me it means I must try and ensure the money I make available to the chief constable is sufficient to keep everyone safe while simultaneously continuing to improve value for money and productivity.
There is a serious point on the productivity debate – because Suffolk is such a large county it costs considerably more to deliver policing in rural areas due to areas of isolation and the sheer distance officers have to travel. We are, of course, fortunate to experience lower levels of recorded crime than metropolitan areas, but nevertheless HMIC figures do show Suffolk officers have higher workloads than most other areas and I’m very concerned to do whatever I can to avoid increasing individual workloads.
The 1.97 per cent increase to the precept puts an extra £830,000 into the budget next year. It’s difficult to be specific about what might happen if I decided to recommend no increase but, in very simplistic terms, it could mean a reduction of 18 officers or fewer resources for road safety or the new cyber crime unit. Such decisions would have been extremely difficult.
I do believe a smaller budget would start to erode Suffolk Constabulary’s excellent reputation, which is not what we want. Public trust and confidence in our police force is crucial. One of the largest new areas of expenditure we have to meet is the new apprenticeship levy and increased contributions for the state pension scheme – together they will cost over £2.2 million each year, so I hope you’ll understand how this additional challenge contributed to my decision.
It’s not all doom and gloom however – we have allocated funding to roll out a major programme of body worn video cameras in the next financial year. When the project is complete there will be over 800 cameras available for front line officers in Suffolk and Norfolk – a real step change for front line policing.
I’d like to close by thanking you for your support for this difficult decision and promise I will continue to make future budgetary decisions each year by listening very carefully to all of you.
-- Tim Passmore is Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk