This has probably been the most difficult of the four budgets I have had to write during my term of office.
For much of the last year, the Chief Constable and I were being told to prepare for further sizeable cuts in the grant we get from the Home Office.
We were told to expect anything between 25% to an eye watering 40% which led to speculation in the media of redundancies amongst police staff and officer levels in Gloucestershire dipping below 1,000 for the first time.
Thankfully, the Chancellor surprised everyone when he announced in his Autumn Statement there would be ‘No cuts in the police’.
In the aftermath of that euphoria, it became apparent that the announcement, related only to the Home Office settlement, a figure that was still to be distributed amongst the country’s 43 police forces through a complicated funding formula.
The bottom line is the Constabulary is in a much better position than everyone expected – though the lack of clarity around how the funding formula is likely to be applied in future means we cannot assume that austerity is over. Revised proposals for a new funding formula after the previous bungled attempt will create losers as well as winners. Decisions I make now reflect the need for continued stability against a backdrop of continued uncertainty.
Since I was elected, I have adopted a policy of ‘Invest to save’.
In my first two budgets, I put up the council tax by 2% each year. This was to improve the Constabulary’s capability for tackling cybercrime; to upgrade its Information Communications Technology (ICT) where previously it had no ICT policy, and safeguard the number of frontline officers and Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs).
In fact, I was the first Police and Crime Commissioner to make cybercrime a policing priority and as a result, Gloucestershire is now one of the leading forces in the UK in the field of tackling criminality on the internet.
Investment in ICT has also led to considerable improvement in the force’s mobile policing capability. It has freed many officers from the shackles of their desktop computers and resulted in more of them out on patrol where the public wants them.
Alongside that relatively modest investment, around £10 million savings have been made in police buildings and infrastructure during my term in office, allowing me also to invest in community-led projects which are tackling low level crime and anti-social behaviour both in local communities and countywide.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded in her annual report that Gloucestershire was ‘outstanding’ for planning; ‘good’ at keeping the public safe and a workforce model that is ‘sustainable and affordable’ and I commend the Chief Constable and the dedicated people who work for us both in achieving this.
As a consequence, we reach 2016 with the Constabulary in a good financial position but also knowing that more savings will have to be made.
In preparing this budget, therefore, it is my intention that frontline policing and the service they give to the people of Gloucestershire will be protected. This will require some further investment and the expansion in housebuilding in Gloucestershire, with its impact on the way council tax is levied, will help this.
As a result of this unexpected ‘bonus’ and previous good housekeeping I have concluded I need to increase the police precept for the coming financial year 2016/17 by 1.2%. This is less than many predicted and an increase of less than £3 a yearfor a band D householder.
A 1.2% increase in the police precept will raise £560,000.
It is less than the Chief Constable asked for but it will enable her to meet her operational responsibilities and pave the way for small growth in the next few years. A higher increase would have placed an unfair burden on local taxpayers who are facing further increases to pay for local council services.
And whilst the case the Chief Constable made for a 2% increase had merit, a 1.2% rise will still enable her to implement her plan that will lead to an additional 40 officers and an additional 200 Special Constables to be recruited over the next four years.
As a result, I am also pleased to announce that the freeze in recruitment is now over.
These arrangements also make provision for 1% of the policing budget to be made available for community projects and programmes managed through the Commissioner’s Fund.
If I am re-elected, I am prepared to give notice I may have to increase the council tax again in order to sustain the Constabulary’s viability and to maintain the modest increase in police numbers. Any increase will depend on economic factors at the time and the Government settlement.
However, to supplement a 1.2% increase and help the Chief Constable in this financial year – and inkeeping with my promise not to raise council tax to fill gaps created by Government shortfalls – I will release £8m from Police reserves. This was money which was earmarked to cushion the effects of the proposed cuts but can now be put to other use as follows:
- £3m to upgrade the police intelligence systems and further develop mobile working technology
- £2m for estate development, including upgrading the Bamfurlong Patrol Centre into an blue light services’ deployment centre
- £2m to mitigate against any adverse outcome of funding formula next year – and I call upon our local MPs to support the county’s position
- £1m set aside for invest-to-save in short term projects to support the mid-term financial strategy (MTFS) 2016-20
During my term as Gloucestershire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner, I have raised council tax when I believed it was necessary and frozen it when it was correct to do so.
I have listened to what the public said – that they would pay more to safeguard police numbers – but that was when we expected to have to make big cuts that could have reduced officer numbers below a safe or satisfactory level. That is no longer the case and it would be wrong to use that to justify putting up council tax by 2% when in my view that is not necessary
Instead, this is a thoughtful budget based on the continuation of a strategy for long term planning which I laid out when I was elected. It is a four year financial programme designed to maintain the stability that has been created.
Though we are operating in a period of austerity, we have been able to plan for the future without the need for an exponential increase in the precept as others have resorted to. Credit is due to the Chief Constable and the Constabulary for their work around the new Operating Model and our Tri Force agreements with neighbouring forces.
I acknowledge the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review has enabled me to be more flexible in my planning and now that the immediate threat of big cuts has been taken away, I have produced a plan which will help the police, is reasonable for taxpayers and will be sustainable in the future.