Are Cheshire council taxpayers willing to pay more to protect frontline policing?

Reporter:

Matt Warner

A PUBLIC consultation on Cheshire’s police precept has given a strong indication that residents are potentially supportive of an increase to help protect frontline policing.

Without an increase in the police precept, a key component of homeowners’ annual council tax bills, up to 80 police officer posts could be lost in the county as Cheshire Constabulary is likely to need to make savings of £13 million over the next three years.

That’s the view of the police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, David Keane, who is leading the consultation to help gauge the public and business appetite in Cheshire for dealing with expected funding pressures as a result of a likely “woeful” flat cash settlement from the Government.

A full budget consultation will take place later this month and throughout January.

Mr Keane, who challenged the Chancellor Philip Hammond on police funding earlier this year, is calling on communities to answer a key question on how future funding required to protect frontline officers and deliver on policing priorities should be paid for.

He said “More than 72 per cent of respondents have said they would be supportive of paying a higher precept of about 18p per week should it be necessary to protect frontline policing.

“When I was given the honour of being elected, I said I would listen to the communities we serve.

“I would listen to their concerns. I would listen to their priorities.

“I would ask them the important questions around the future of the force. And I would act on it.

“The debate around police funding is so critically important to the future of the force, so it’s important that we have an open and honest debate about the options.

“Put simply, without a fair funding settlement, we either cut back on officers – the frontline neighbourhood presence which people tell me is important to them – or we look at ways, through the precept, to help maintain services and officer numbers.”

The commissioner consulted on a precept rise of “up to five per cent” – equivalent to 18p per week for the average home – as part of the Cheshire-wide discussion.

This would ensure the Constabulary could maintain officer numbers at their current level. Doing nothing could see up to 80 officer jobs being cut.

The precept debate has prompted feedback from some quarters of the community about the cost of the police and crime commissioner’s office.

Mr Keane said: “When I came in as commissioner, one of the first things I addressed were the costs of this office. They were too high.

“So, I streamlined my team, I got rid of the company cars and I moved our office to a new lower cost location. Our costs are now the second lowest of any police and crime commissioner office in the country.

“Up and down the country PCCs act as the voice of the people and hold the police to account,” he added. “We are responsible for the totality of policing. At a total cost of less than 0.4 per cent of the overall policing budget in Cheshire, I feel this is a very small price to pay for the impact we have on delivering a high quality police force.”

Over the past seven years, Cheshire Constabulary has made savings of more than £60 million.

Analysis by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society shows Cheshire Police has suffered a cash cut of 23 per cent since 2010 and a real terms cut of 37 per cent.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has done its bit too, reducing spend by 37 per cent (about £400,000) – a third of the previous commissioner’s budget.

A flat cash settlement from the Government could mean that, over the next three years, Cheshire Police will need to find further savings of more than £13m – about £4m in 2018-19, £5m in 2019-20 and a further £4m in 2020-21.

The full consultation on the police budget will take place between tomorrow (Thursday) and Wednesday, January 24, following the Government announcing budget settlement for Cheshire just before Christmas.

Email:

matt.warner@nwn.co.uk

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