It’s decided. The police precept – the part of the council tax bill we all pay to fund our force – is going up after almost universal approval at last Friday’s (8 Feb) Police and Crime Panel meeting.
It will mean that for a Band C property in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the precept will rise from £167.36 to £188.69. I use Band C as an illustration because most homes, mine included, fall into that bracket. For higher bands the increase will be a little more. In return we’ll get a police force that has a decent chance of maintaining or improving its enviable position as working one of the safest beats in the country. We’re currently the seventh safest force area out of 43.
The Chief Constable has assured me that in return for that extra investment we’ll get an additional 85 officers for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and by the end of 2020 we’ll have a force strength of 3,100, 186 more than when I was voted in. It’s a budget that will continue to drive our police force along the road to recovery, so it can face new threats like terrorism, and address the everyday crime that blights lives.
This recruitment drive wouldn’t be possible without the support of the people who live in the force area. Our poll of more than 4,500 people showed that 54% were in favour of a rise in the precept if there was a noticeable investment in front-line policing. Last year 71% answered yes to the same question.
The drop tells me people are losing their desire to pay ever more in their council tax for this vital service. Our police and crime panel, made up of politicians of many different colours, don’t give their unanimous support to much, but they were united in their calls for central Government to pay a greater part of the police funding pie.
They are writing to the Home Office to make the point that people in this part of the world aren’t made of money, yet have the right to be protected by a properly funded and well equipped police force, a message I have already voiced at Westminster to our MPs, to House of Commons select committees and to Treasury officials.
One set of figures I am particularly pleased with at the moment is the reduction in the amount of reserves held by the force, which stood at around £50m two years ago and is forecast to drop to £21m by 2023 as a huge programme of investment in estates and technology is rolled out.
There’s little point in keeping vast pots of rainy-day money when investing it employs people, stimulates the local economy and delivers better working conditions for employees who do a very difficult job.
We are now seeing the real fruits of this investment. The day before Friday’s panel meeting the Chief Constable and I bolted the final steel in place in Exeter’s new operational police station, a £29m project funded by my office that is employing local contactors wherever possible. Immediately after the meeting I rushed to our new Cornish operational HQ in Bodmin, to the passing out ceremony of eight tri-service officers who will be located at towns around the Duchy.
Before I left for Bodmin I reassured the panel that I would not be coming back next year asking for the precept to rise by such an amount again. I want it kept to the bare minimum next year, and a greater proportion of money to come from government coffers.
I am also working with the Chief Constable to set up a productivity taskforce to ensure we have our own house in order and that every penny of taxpayers’ money is used as efficiently as possible. We owe that to every hard-working taxpayer in our two counties.
With Brexit, a spending review and a new police grant funding formula on the horizon, police forces up and down the country will be scrapping for every penny over the next few months. We need to be united in our fight to ensure our lovely corner of England doesn’t miss out.