Police add to Council Tax hike

Friday 28th January 2022 4:16 pm
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PCC Alison Hernandez Picture from LDNS ()

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Devon and Cornwall Police is hiking its share of council tax by £10 following a vote by the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel.

The 4.23 per cent rise, which comes into effect in April, will see residents in band D council tax pay £246.56 towards policing.

The move was proposed by police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Alison Hernandez who wants to recruit 700 new officers.

If her plans work out, the region will have more than 3,600 officers, the largest number since the force was created in 1967.

Ms Hernandez outlined four priorities for next year: cracking down on drugs, anti-social behaviour, serious violence and road safety.

The move has attracted some criticism for escalating costs for households already hit by fuel prices, inflation and a proposed 1.25 per cent increase in National Insurance contributions in April, especially with the region’s relatively low crime rates.

Despite Office of National Statistics figures for the year ending September 2021 showing a one per cent increase in recorded crime in Devon and Cornwall, crime in the two counties remains at some of the lowest levels in the UK.

The small increase in the region’s overall crime rate masks some notable issues though. Overall ‘victim-based crime’ has dipped by 0.6 per cent, but sexual offences are up around 15 per cent and public order offences by 13 per cent.

Ms Hernandez defended the proposals: “I strongly believe that in times of economic uncertainty and volatility, policing has an even greater role to play. Bitter experience has taught us that economic hardship means we are likely to see even greater levels of domestic abuse, violence and acquisitive crime.

“We need the full precept [tax] to strengthen, stabilise and sustain the force for the volatile times ahead – that much we do know.”

The rise might be the first of several in coming years. The government has announced that police and crime commissioners will have the power to request up to £10 increases every year for the next three years.

Speaking at the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel, deputy leader of West Devon District Council Ric Cheadle (Independent, Buckland Monachorum) said: “Every pound is going to be vitally important to families trying to balance their budgets.”

He asked if there would ever be a time when the police and crime commissioner would consider not raising the policing precept when she has the opportunity.

Ms Hernadez replied that despite low crime rates, there is still an intangible fear of crime that would be reduced with more money and more officers on the street. She said: “We’ll never be satisfied because the crime rate is only one element of performance measuring for policing.

“The ‘violence against women and girls’ agenda has really highlighted the poor way in which policing has served some of our community. So we have got some challenges ahead that are about more than the crime rate itself.”

Independent member of the Police and Crime Panel Sharon Minty said with the precept rise, many women would be paying even more money for “a service they don’t believe meets their needs.”

Ms Hernandez defended the force, saying: “Women generally that I speak to who have had dealings with the police have had quite an excellent service.”

She admitted that there were problems and argued that one of the main ways of building trust would be to improve conviction rates.

Nearly 84 per cent of the Devon and Cornwall police’s costs are staff wages, leading some people to worry about a pension time bomb.

Torridge District councillor Philip Hackett (Independent, Broadheath) said: “The concern I would have is that in 20 or so years down the line can we rest assured that we will have the pensions budget to pay for the officers we’re having now and we’re not going to crash the staff numbers somewhere in the future?”

Nicola Allen, treasurer and chief finance officer for the Devon and Cornwall office of the police and crime commissioner agreed that pensions were one of the most potentially “volatile” problems. Ms Allen said that the Home Office had indicated that it might potentially be increasing its support but admitted that nothing was in writing yet.

She said that allowances had been made in the ‘medium-term financial strategy’, which runs until 2026, concluding: “Only time will tell, but we have tried to at least be some sort of assumption in there which is realistic.”

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