Why I’m seeking to increase the council tax contribution to policing in Essex for 2015/16
After much thought, I have decided once again that it is right to seek an increase in the portion of council tax used to fund policing. I welcome your views.
Our police force is facing many new and emerging challenges such as child sexual exploitation, online grooming of our children and fraud, which often targets older people. Every day in Essex, there are more than four times as many domestic abuse incidents as house burglaries. Combating these types of crime requires specialist and highly trained officers, many of whom will not be visible on the streets in the traditional fashion of a “bobby on the beat”. The way in which we police our county and prevent serious harm is changing.
As Police and Crime Commissioner I am working with the Chief Constable to ensure, even at a time when funds are tighter than they have been for many years, that we invest for the future. We need modern technology to enable officers to work more effectively and efficiently; we need buildings that are fit for purpose and in the right place to serve local communities; we need to transform how the public can communicate with Essex Police. Without this investment we will be letting down our successors. I will also continue to drive initiatives to improve partnership working between key local agencies such as the health service, our councils, social care, probation services and the voluntary sector. And work that we are already doing in this respect – for example through the multi-agency Domestic Abuse Strategy Board which I chair – is already delivering efficient and effective work and improving services for victims.
All this work is crucial and will increase the efficiency of our police force. But the financial challenges for 2015/16, and beyond are considerable, especially if we are to find the resources to invest for the future of policing in Essex.
The force continues to deliver creditable performance but as Police and Crime Commissioner I see the stress on those officers and staff delivering that performance. The Essex Police budget has reduced by £20m over the past 5 years and it has absorbed additional cost pressure of £30m. It is one of the most lean and efficient forces in the country. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) reports that the average cost of policing per head of the population across the shire counties is £183.50 per annum in the 12 months to March 2015, and the national average is £211.14 if the major urban forces such as the Metropolitan Police Service are included. In Essex, the cost of policing per head of the population is just £158.84, the third lowest figure in the country. Only in Lincolnshire and Wiltshire is the cost lower. So at a time when nearly all police forces are saying they are struggling with finance, Essex Police is less well funded than almost all.
The amount we as residents of Essex pay for policing through our council tax is the second lowest of any English shire county at £144.27 per annum (Band D). In several counties you would pay well over £200. If our contribution rose to the average paid through council tax for English shire forces, this would fund an additional 300 officers in our county.
Central government grant funds up to around two-thirds of the overall policing budget, with the other one third coming from the portion of local council tax used for policing and community safety purposes. For 2015-16, we now know that there will be an £8.5m (4.7%) reduction in central government funding for Essex Police. With around 84 per cent of the policing budget spent on the salaries of our officers, PCSOs and police staff, this inevitably means that there will be fewer people working for Essex Police. Since 2010-11, there has already been a reduction of over 300 police officers and almost 200 PCSOs.
I have decided that to help offset the reduction in central government grant I will seek an increase in the policing precept for Essex for 2015-16 of just under two per cent. This would raise about £1.7 million and cost an average council tax payer less than six pence per week. I am choosing 1.99% because this is the maximum increase I am allowed to seek by government without requiring a costly referendum. The advice I have received and which I accept is that this would most likely cost between £2-3 million to hold. My judgement is that using millions of pounds of public money on such a referendum is not justifiable at this time.
I will be submitting a full paper, containing extensive financial detail, for the Police and Crime Panel to consider at their meeting of January 29, 2015, and that document will be published on this website shortly.
I regret having to seek this increase in the precept but I believe it is the responsible thing to do. I very much want to hear your views about my proposal to seek an increase of around six pence a week in the amount we pay in council tax for policing.
You are most welcome to contact me by email or postal correspondence using the following addresses:
Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex
3 Hoffmanns Way
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex