THE POLICE Crime Commissioner, Nick Alston has gone on the record to defend his proposal to increase the police share of the council tax bill by 3.5%.
Mr Alston said: “Everyone in Essex has a right to expect that their taxpayer money is used in an open and transparent fashion to deliver the best, most efficient and most effective policing services possible.
For the past few months, Chief Constable Kavanagh and I, together with our teams, have been working hard to understand the scale and impact of the financial challenges faced by Essex Police.
The funding of police forces comes from two primary sources: national government grant, and council tax – of which a portion goes directly to the police.
When compared with the other 35 shire forces in England and Wales, for 2013/14 the amount of council tax paid to fund policing services in our county was the fourth lowest in the country. If the amount of council tax paid by all of us who live in Essex was equivalent to the national average, it would fund an additional 300 to 500 police constables depending on the calculation used.
Essex Police is already a lean and efficient force. Recent reports, including a “Value for Money” inspection by HMIC, found that Essex Police had the second lowest net expenditure and the lowest non staff expenditure per head of the population. National comparisons also show that Essex Police has a below average number of police officers and PCSOs given the size and population of our county, and the seventh lowest number of police staff. Finally, in terms of efficiency, compared with other forces an above average proportion of police officer time was spent on the operational front line.
Here, in short then, is the predicament for our county. We have a highly professional, lean and efficient police force, and we are faced with the need for further savings. At the same time I hear week by week that everyone is concerned there are too few police on the front line.
Fundamentally, I believe that with any large organisation, there are always efficiencies to be found. Under scrutiny from me Essex Police is delivering those efficiencies. However, I also believe that it is my job as Police and Crime Commissioner to be responsible, and to do the right thing for the people of Essex to ensure that our county continues to be a safe and enjoyable place in which to live and work.
The reduction of central government grant from 2013/14 to 2014/15 is 4.8 per cent, equivalent to £8.4million.
Financial figures can be abstract and difficult to make sense of, so to enable the scale of this to be more easily understood, I will quantify those figures in police officer numbers. The cut in central government grant of £8.4 million for 2014/15 is indicatively equivalent to 165 police officers.
I have thought long and hard about this, and have decided that the right and responsible thing to do is to propose a precept increase of just under £5 a year for a Band D property, or 3.5 per cent, to mitigate the reduction in central funding. This sum would generate funds equivalent to the cost of 57 police officers.
I believe that the majority of people in Essex will be prepared to pay a little more in council tax, around 10 pence a week, to help ensure that we have a strong police force. But of course I recognise that for some finding even this modest amount will be difficult.
I would also stress that my guidance to the Chief Constable is that wherever possible and appropriate, he should strive to protect police officer numbers. Neither the Chief Constable nor I expect the savings to be delivered solely by cutting the number of police officers who work tirelessly and professionally to keep us all safe, day and night.
I realise that families and ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet, and facing their own particular financial challenges. However, I firmly believe that increasing the portion of council tax to fund policing by just under £5 a year will reduce the risks to the effective delivery of policing services in Essex.
My proposal will be presented to the Police and Crime Panel and debated in public at their meeting of Wednesday January 29, 2014, starting at 2:30pm in Committee Room 2, County Hall, Chelmsford.
The next Essex Police Challenge meeting, where the public and I put questions directly to Chief Constable Kavanagh will be held from 7:30pm on Thursday February 27, in Anglia Ruskin University, Bishop Hall Lane, Chelmsford. I encourage everyone to come along and be part of the debate about policing and community safety in Essex.