As Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, my overriding objective is simple: I want to ensure that crime continues to fall in our county so that there are fewer victims of crime.
Guided by this core aim, I’ve been looking very closely at the funding both of Essex Police and of the partner agencies and grassroots initiatives involved in keeping our communities safe. The financial position I have discovered is even more challenging than I suspected when taking office just over two months ago.
I will begin with Essex Police. The force is about to enter the third year of a four year change programme to save over £42 million from the annual budget by then end of March 2015. Chief Constable Barker-McCardle has described this as the greatest “peacetime challenge” to policing in our county.
The funding of police forces comes from two main sources: national government grant, and council tax – of which a small portion goes directly to the police. Between 2011/12 and 2014/15, the national government grant to police forces will reduce by 20 percent in “real terms”, as determined by the Chancellor’s Spending Review of October 2010.
The situation with regards to council tax funding for policing in Essex is striking and perhaps less well known. The simple truth is that the amount of council tax we each pay to fund policing services in our county is the lowest in the country.
All the evidence suggests that Essex Police is already a lean, efficiently run force, with over ninety percent of officers deployed on the front line and the seventh highest police officer to police staff ratio in the country. This means that most of our money is spent on “front line” policing.
This is the context in which to judge the impact of the budget savings that the force has already made. Compared with the levels of 2010, Essex Police will soon have lost 875 posts: 353 police officers (around ten percent of officers); 112 PCSOs (around 24 percent of PCSOs); and 410 police staff (roughly 19 percent of the total). It is also the case that the four year plan agreed for Essex Police to meet over £42 million in budget cuts included a 2.5 percent increase in the portion of council tax paid to fund policing in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.
One further striking fact is that if we, the people of Essex, paid the equivalent to the national average for policing from council tax, it would fund 470 extra police officers. We are at the bottom of the pile and will only fall further behind if we don’t take steps now to invest in our police.
In addition to recommending council tax funding levels for policing, I am responsible for making Community Safety grants in Essex. The context here is that the amount of national government funding for Community Safety projects has reduced by over fifty percent in the last two years. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that key agencies and organisations involved in tackling the causes and consequences of crime – such as Youth Offending Teams and drug and alcohol abuse teams – and for ensuring that victims of crime and domestic abuse are properly supported, continue to receive funding.
In short, the financial position in which we find ourselves is stark. I am very proud to be the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, and very aware of the responsibilities that I hold on behalf of everyone who lives in, works or visits our county.
Ultimately, there must be a risk that continued cuts in the number of police officers will make Essex more vulnerable to crime. Therefore, I have decided to ask for a 3.5 percent increase in the portion of council tax used to fund policing and community safety in Essex, which amounts to an extra £4.77 per year for a Band D council tax payer.
In real terms, I am asking for an extra forty pence a month, just over a penny a day, to fund our police force and crime reduction work. I believe it would be irresponsible of me, indeed that I would be failing in my duty as Police and Crime Commissioner, if I didn’t make the case for this small increase in the portion of council tax used to fund policing.
In return, my promise to everyone who lives and works in Essex is that I will ensure that Essex Police and Community Safety organisations use this money effectively and efficiently in reducing crime and keeping our county safe.
A series of five detailed financial papers and other supporting documents have been sent to the Police and Crime Panel in advance of their meeting on 31st January, 2013, and can be seen in the Police and Crime Panel Papers section here.
Details can also be found on the Police and Crime Panel website here.