By Local Democracy Reporter
PLANNED increases in the number of police officers could be derailed due to substantial financial pressures – including a tripling of the force’s car insurance premiums – Essex’s crime commissioner has warned.
Roger Hirst has raised the spectre of a large precept increase next year to pay for a raft of fiscal challenges.
An expected tripling of its car insurance premium is likely to cost the force an extra £1m 2019/20 – equivalent to 30 full time officers.
A £175m overshoot on a nationwide police IT programme could be top sliced from force budgets across the country – leaving less funding for officers.
Essex Police paid for 150 new police officers due to start in January from the £12 increase in the force’s part of council tax from April.
However Mr Hirst had wanted to almost double that number to a total of 290 through another £12 precept increase, taking the total number to around 3,140 through an extra investment of around £15 million.
However he has warned that financial pressures from technology overshoots, pension demands and a rise from £500,000 to £1.5 million in car insurance could hit those plans hard.
He said: “I just wanted to give my colleagues as an early warning that there are quite a lot of moving parts.
“The absolutely priority is to deliver the policing that Essex needs – we know from the work we did that 150 isn’t the figure – the figure is more like 290.
“I’d like to do almost the same again next year.
“I don’t know if I can. I thought it was going to be absolutely in the bag on the basis of the deal we did with the Government last December.
“With these cost pressures coming down we are going to have to work it through.
“I need to put more pressure on central Government, as we are doing, before the budget.
“It is a lot of money – so I need to fund it.”
He told the crime panel at Essex County Council that a major problem could come if the Government decides to top slice national budgets to fund a £175m technology overshoot.
He said: “I thought we had done a two year deal on policing with the Government so we knew what the baseline was and we knew what we could spend.
“In the intervening nine months there is quite a lot of additional costs in the pipeline heading towards us.
“There are some spectacular overshoots in national programmes particularly in the emergency services communications programme (ESCP) and there is an ask from the Home Office for another £175 million.
“If they get it from the treasury that is fine but if they top slice it from policing it’s not.
“It’s going to be rolled out piece by piece and policing are concerned it means a plethora of devices and incomparability across borders.”
Mr Hirst said this meant the roll out of policing would likely be deferred until 2021, if not 2022.
“Which means we have to keep Airwave working for that much longer and we have been to all the boot sales we can and bought all the spare devices we can find – we are going to have to order some new ones,” he said.
“We are going to have to spend money on sustaining Airwave (the system used for police radios) until the ESCP is ready to replaces it.
“That is quite a big item.
“Combine that with motor insurance – it looks like our insurers want to treble the premium and combine that with the increase of policing pay and combine that with the recent change of the pension discount rate.
“Adding all those together there looks like there is going to quite a big budget setting.”