Tackling the challenges of local police funding
As Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, I take full responsibility for ensuring that we raise the necessary money to fund high quality policing in our county, keeping our communities safe. I believe Essex Police has the budget to continue to deliver professional policing throughout 2015-16, but beyond that – as I have said before – the funding situation is perilous.
Essex Police receives less money from local council taxpayers than almost any other force in the country. In my first years of office I have raised the policing precept, the amount of council tax paid to fund policing, by the maximum allowable amount. Last year, this was around six pence per week for a Band D property. However, the gap between the local funding that Essex Police receives compared with the funding of forces receiving the average precept continues to grow in size.
The simple truth is that the budget of Essex Police is falling further behind that of other forces year by year. With around 85 per cent of the police budget spent on the salaries of police officers, PCSOs and police staff, however hard we work to deliver efficiency this growing imbalance will have a direct impact on the force’s effectiveness – if it is left unchecked. Already, the number of PCSOs in Essex has reduced from 445 in 2010 to 280 now.
Excellent work by Essex Police has contributed to a 10 per cent drop in the number of house burglaries, robberies and vehicle crimes, comparing this year with last. However, there has been a significant increase in violent crime, and serious sexual offences reported to police have increased by almost a third. I am clear that this is in part due to increased confidence amongst the public in reporting these crimes. However, if people tell Essex Police about such crimes, we must ensure that the force has the resources to investigate thoroughly, work to bring the perpetrators to justice and, most importantly, safeguard victims.
I must ensure that Essex Police is equipped to tackle hidden harms, such as the challenges of child sexual exploitation, online grooming, elder abuse and cyber fraud. Organised criminal gangs are behind much of this criminality, and the police response needs to be sophisticated and wide-ranging to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our communities from serious harm. The front line is increasingly your front room.
To be clear, I support low taxation but I also have the responsibility of ensuring that Essex Police is fit to face the challenges of the future. I inherited from the former Essex Police Authority a precept that had been reduced to a very low level, small financial reserves some of which were not cash-backed, a lack of investment, and an apparent lack of strategic planning. To address this, I have embarked on a full review of the force’s property estate as many police buildings are in the wrong place and are not fit for purpose. The force must also continue to develop the IT infrastructure to ensure that police officers are given the tools to do their job effectively and protect people from harm.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that Essex Police is already one of the most efficient and low cost forces in the country. As PCC, I am committed to driving efficiency and I will continue to work closely with the Chief Constable to ensure Essex Police delivers the most effective policing possible However, the indications are that the force will have overspent against its budget this year – showing that the funding situation is beginning to bite.
I will continue to make the case with the new government for the removal of the cap on any policing precept increase for 2016-17. This would enable me, as the elected Police and Crime Commissioner, to address the local council taxpayer funding shortfall and deliver firm financial foundations for Essex Police. I will be accountable for this decision and people will have the opportunity to vote at the next PCC elections. However, the feedback I have repeatedly received during my public meetings all around the county is that people are prepared to pay a little more if they feel it will fund high quality frontline policing.
The world of policing is changing to meet the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. We must also ensure that public money is spent wisely and judiciously. Both Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh and I are determined to work closely together to ensure that Essex Police is built on firm and robust foundations.
– Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex