Cheshire's police and crime commissioner has agreed a 3.2% increase in the police precept – which he says will provide an extra 70 frontline officers.
John Dwyer has set the constabulary’s budget for 2016/17 at £192.5m, resulting in an increase in the precept of 10p per week for the county’s residents.
He said the extra money will ‘help make Cheshire a safer, more prosperous county and one that remains hostile to criminals’.
“This is a budget to protect Cheshire and meet the Home Secretary’s challenge to increase policing capacity and capability to meet both local and national security threats,” he added.
“My budget is built on the success of a major efficiency drive that I put in place, which has helped ensure that every pound spent by the police is a pound well spent”.
Protecting police budget
In November, Chancellor George Osborne announced police funding was protected.
Mr Dwyer said: “When the Chancellor announced that, it was based on an assumption that commissioners across the country would increase council tax.
“In the case of those commissioners with the lowest historic levels of precept, as we have in Cheshire, the Chancellor has provided the flexibility to increase this by an average of 10p per week – which will broadly protect Cheshire’s police budget.
“My decision to raise council tax means that I can increase, for the second year running, the number of frontline police officers in our communities.
“On top of the 53 I funded last year, this year’s budget will allow me to add a further 70 officers.”
At the end of last year, the commissioner said that zero increase in the precept would lead to a reduction in the number of frontline police officers, whereas a 2% increase would ‘maintain’ existing services.
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In a public perception telephone survey of 625 residents, 51.8% of respondents indicated they would pay extra – 74.6% of those indicated they would be prepared to pay £5 extra per year [10p per week].
Through the commissioner’s ‘have your say’ surveys, 48.8% said they would pay £5 extra per year.
And in a consultation exercise during December and January, 56.3% of 1,065 respondents said they would pay 10p per week extra.
In a separate consultation, representatives of the business community agreed they would be prepared to increase the police precept.
“I have thought long and hard about this decision,” Mr Dwyer said on Friday (February 5).
“Throughout the year I have talked with Cheshire residents and businesses. Consistently, they tell me that a modest increase in tax is a price they are prepared to pay when it guarantees more frontline officers – and following discussions and advice from the Chief Constable, this is a commitment I can make.
“In addition to frontline policing, this budget will help equip the Constabulary to meet the challenges of cybercrime, extremism, and more complex offences which increasingly we see today, including some horrendous sexual and domestic abuse cases.
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“Once the implications of the national settlement became clear, any other decision on my part – either to keep the police share of council tax at today’s rate or to increase it by a lesser sum – would have meant cutting the constabulary’s budget further.
“Given our success in driving down crime and making Cheshire one of – if not the safest county in the country – I was determined to protect the budget, so that the success of the last four years can be continued.”
The key priorities in the commissioner’s budget are:
- An additional 70 frontline police officers, bringing the total number of Cheshire police officers to 2,053 by March 2017.
- Further investment in the constabulary’s public protection team to tackle sexual crimes and domestic abuse, as well as emerging threats like human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
- Further strengthening the constabulary’s taskforce, which includes the roads policing unit, to deter and identify organised criminal gangs and those involved in drug crime.
- Maintaining his commitment to PCSOs, to ensure that visibility and public engagement is maximised.
- Continued investment in technology, including tablet computers, to enable officers to spend more time in local communities.
- Increasing the ways the public can access the police, including more police community bases in remote locations, ensuring officers are accessible where and when you need them.
- The capacity and flexibility to respond to national threats of terrorism and cybercrime.
Chief constable's reaction
Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “I am grateful to the police and crime commissioner and the people of Cheshire for supporting our budget. Over the last year we have changed the policing model to get more officers on to the frontline, in our communities protecting the people of Cheshire.
“During the last year, crime has steadily reduced and we are seeing some of our highest rates for solving crime in recent years.
“Our intention in the coming year is to continue to focus on those issues that matter to the public, like putting more officers into local policing, while investing in the constabulary so that officers have the right kit and the best IT to further improve our ability to combat crime and protect our communities in the face of new threats.”
Mr Dwyer added: “This constabulary is one of the most cost-effective in the county but I will be ever vigilant in scrutinising the constabulary’s spending to ensure that every penny it spends continues to be focused on protecting the people of Cheshire.”