Almost £4.5m will be added to council tax bills across Lancashire this year to cover the cost of the county’s police force.
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Clive Grunshaw said he was “frustrated” by the increase - which is a hike of approximately five percent and equates to £10 on a Band D property - but claimed that government policy meant it was “the only tool in the box” to help bridge a funding gap for the constabulary.
He also warned that it would be necessary to manage the public’s expectations about the impact of 153 new officers to be recruited in the county over the next 12 months - because Lancashire will still be left with 600 fewer frontline police than it had back in 2010.
The government has pledged to fully fund the cost of the extra officers, the first tranche of its pledge to put 20,000 new police on the streets within the next three years. The Home Office says that it is part of the most generous funding settlement in a decade, which will see Lancashire with £22.6m more to spend from April than it had during 2019/20.
But within that figure is an assumption that the PCC will take up the opportunity to hike the so-called “police precept” on council tax. That will raise £4.44m, but the Lancashire force still faces a budget shortfall of £1.33m.
Mr. Grunshaw said that the extra officers - while welcome - also restricted his options when it comes to cutting costs.
“We can’t look to our back office staff, because if we reduce their numbers, then we’re not supporting the new recruits. In fact, we’d be setting them up to fail - and it would negate the point of recruiting them in the first place,” the Labour commissioner said.
Savings identified in the PCC’s budget - which has today been approved by the panel of councillors which scrutinises his work - include reduced contributions to reserves and £240,000 saved by increased use of drones rather than deploying helicopters.
Cost pressures include £6.1m to cover an assumed 2.5 percent pay increase for officers and staff in 2020/21, which has not been funded by the government.
The PCC said he would continue to press for all 750 officers lost to Lancashire since 2010 to be returned - citing forces such as Surrey, whose extra officer allocation already exceeds the number by which staff have been reduced since 2010. It is understood that Lancashire Police will have to recruit almost 100 officers over and above the 153 allocated by the government in the coming financial year - in order to cover those leaving the force and to ensure that the benefit of the uplift is felt in full.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service before the police and crime panel meeting where the budget was approved, Mr. Grunshaw also paid tribute to the “can do” attitude in policing.
“Amid the wider impact of austerity on things like social care and mental health services, the job of policing has changed radically,” he said, adding that the “civilianisation” of roles in Lancashire Police’s contact centre and even some of its investigatory teams had helped increase efficiency.
A reduction in the government grant for the constabulary’s capital programme - which includes a £96m refurbishment of its estate and £22m in IT upgrades - will see money transferred from the revenue budget and reserves of £26.5m and £6.3m respectively.
Reserves are forecast to stand at £10.1m by the end of March.
In a statement to Parliament when the police settlement was announced, policing minister Kit Malthouse said: “This people’s Government is determined to strengthen our police service and tackle the unacceptable levels of crime, particularly violent crime, across our country.
“This Government will deliver on its commitment to recruit 20,000 additional officers over the next three years to protect the public and keep our families, communities and our country safe. We have already invested in this uplift programme, providing £45 million of additional funding in 2019/20 to ensure the programme gets off the ground.
“The 2020/21 funding settlement gives the police the investment they need to deliver on that promise.
“Taking all funding from the Government and PCCs’ precept raising power into account, up to an extra £1.1 billion will be available for investment in the policing system in 2020/21. This would represent an increase of 8% funding on top of 2019/20 levels and is the single biggest increase in Government investment in policing for some time,” Mr. Malthouse added.
WHAT IS YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE POLICE?
The proportion of council tax paid towards the police in Lancashire (by council tax property band) from April is as follows:
Band A - £141.02
Band B - £164.51
Band C - £188.02
Band D - £211.52
Band E - £258.53
Band F - £305.53
Band G - £352.54
Band H - £423.05