Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles said today that he is unable to make firm precept recommendations for policing in Derbyshire within the required time frames because of the Government’s tardiness in announcing key decisions on council tax increases.
He said: “The lack of referendum principles from the Government is hindering me from making the biggest financial decisions of the year in the timescales set down by that same Government. It is an outrageous position and totally unacceptable. If we were as dilatory in meeting the prescribed timescales I think that Ministers would have been the first to hold us to account, but apparently it doesn’t work the same when the positions are reversed.”
Mr Charles did discuss his financial options at the Strategic Governance Board (SGB) meeting (today, 27 January) before he takes them to the Police and Crime Panel when it meets next Thursday (30 January).
The Commissioner is particularly concerned that his “hands are tied” because the Government has yet to announce referendum guidelines, making local budget planning and consultation “extremely difficult.”
At the same time he is deeply disturbed at the latest provisional funding settlement and also ‘top slicing’ from police budgets to help fund a number of national policing schemes. “For us in Derbyshire, the effect is a loss of nearly £1.27m that we would have spent on local policing and locally identified priorities,” he said.
“That is not what I call promoting localism and protecting the frontline. Residents have told us that frontline policing is very important to them but this is becoming increasingly challenging not only because of continuing cuts but also due to the Government withholding any indication of grant levels for 2015-16.
“It’s my job to make firm, considered recommendations regarding the police budget and precept, not apply a ‘best guess’ to what future resources are available to me. To say I am unhappy at what is happening is putting it mildly.”
Mr Charles has already conducted a budget consultation exercise in which nearly half the respondents said a 2% increase was about right, and a further 33% said it should be higher still. A 2% increase would equate to around an additional £3.30 on a Band D property.
Making a decision on this has meantime become difficult because the Government is unlikely to make its announcement before early February on the rules regarding the rise in the amount of council tax that can be imposed without holding a referendum among residents. This delay has prompted Mr Charles to hold back on any firm precept recommendation for the Police and Crime Panel to consider, on the basis that it is impossible without all the information.
The Commissioner has considered the options to either take the freeze grant or to increase council tax and, subject to a final council tax assurance statement from the Treasurer, to notify the Police and Crime Panel that, subject to any changes in legislation relating to Panel dates or to the receipt of the Referendum Principles, the Police Precept for 2014/15 for a Band D property is proposed as £170.22 being an increase of £3.37 or 1.96%, OR up to the maximum permissible under the 2014 Referendum Principles.
His objections to what he describes as the Government’s “smoke and mirrors” funding approach include using money that now goes to – among other national schemes – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary instead of to Derbyshire Police. “HMIC will do more inspections than we could but they will be taking up more resources,” he said. “This Government said it wants to see a decrease in bureaucracy and yet this is a blatant increase in the bureaucratic burden placed upon police forces, which will reduce the number of frontline officers in the process.
“Also, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is receiving more money to investigate complaints of a kind that could be investigated for considerably less by an internal Professional Standards Department. There are occasions when matters should be referred to the IPCC – but not at the cost of police officers on the streets of Derbyshire.”
Monday’s SGB meeting will hear that only minor changes have been made to this year’s budget. The most significant of these are:
- The creation of an extra post to co-ordinate the force’s response to wildlife, rural and heritage crime across Derbyshire.
- Further savings as a result of regional collaboration.
- A reduction in Basic Command Unit funding specifically for joint partnership activity as police partners find that they also need to scale back their contributions to this activity.
Other changes include the removal of specific funding for major policing incidents. Instead, the force will need to rely on its reserves if it has a major policing incident that cannot be managed within existing staffing levels.
Budget proposals for the Chief Constable are a revised net budget requirement for 2013/14 of £164.269m and a proposed net requirement for 2014/15 of £164.281m.
A report to the meeting shows that Derbyshire Constabulary has placed great emphasis on maintaining performance despite unprecedented budget cuts, and reserves have been built up to help manage future cuts. The report does, however, point to the likelihood of the force reducing in size as funding diminishes.
Although the force has delivered excellent performance, and particularly in working with its partners, the challenges of continuing to reduce crime is becoming more difficult each year. With officers having to deal with more complex and time consuming issues such as cyber crime, the Board will hear that current projections for 2013/14 show a small increase in recorded crime both in Derbyshire and in many other forces.
Despite the ever-increasing complexity of offending, the force has continued to see year on year reductions in anti-social behaviour incidents.
Police funding from the Government will be reduced in 2014/15 by a further 4.8% per cent or £5.3m.
Media enquiries: Sallie Blair on 01283 821012 or 07702 541401
The Commissioner has a duty to consider all the options open to him in determining any decision. A key element in the consideration of setting the best budget and precept to resource a quality police service for the residents of Derbyshire are the Referendum Principles.
The Commissioner is still waiting for this information, and he is required by the Police and Crime Panels (Precepts and Chief Constable Appointments) Regulations 2012 (the current relevant legislation) to advise the Panel of his intended precept by 1 February at the latest; in reality this is in 3 days’ time when the Panel meets.
The Police and Crime Panel must respond to this proposal in a report by 8 February, which is after the 5 February when it understood that the final grant settlement and the referendum principles are to be announced by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Commissioner may provide an update to the Panel to support and inform his precept proposal.
Posted on Monday 27th January 2014