Friday was one of the most significant days of my five years of service as Police and Crime Commissioner, as my final budget before the May elections received unanimous approval at a meeting of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel.
Commissioners are supposed to serve a four-year term but the Covid-19 pandemic meant the 2020 polls were postponed for 12 months. On the morning of the panel meeting the Government confirmed that it is not planning to postpone any further, so it is likely that with a few precautions voters will cast their votes in May.
A few hours after that announcement my budget went before elected councillors and independent panel members from around Devon and Cornwall for the panel that meets quarterly to scrutinise my decisions. The February meeting where the multi-million-pound budget is discussed is probably the most significant of the year, and this one arguably the most significant of my whole term.
The plan for the year to April 2022 will mean an increase in the police precept we all pay at a time when I know people are concerned about the economy and their livelihoods. This amounts to a rise of £14.92 a year, or £1.24 a month, for a band D household. Deciding to raise taxes is not something that any politician likes doing, especially at such a difficult time, but I feel that the investment that will be possible because of it means this is the best course of action for our communities, as our safety and security must come first.
For two years polling by my office has shown that crime prevention remains the area where our communities want more investment. And this year a total of 88% of residents who took part in my survey into policing told me investment in visible policing was also a top priority.
This makes sense to me as if we can stop crime happening in the first place we will have fewer victims and police will have more resources to investigate the crimes that do happen.
I think visible policing and crime prevention go hand in hand so this budget will create an additional 232 frontline jobs before April next year, as well as delivering more sworn officers to make the force stronger than it has been in a decade. There will be more staff in contact centres to answer your calls and emails and more investigators to make sure crime does not pay.
You might argue that Devon and Cornwall Police does not need more resources, after all, on Thursday last week the Office of National Statistics recorded crime statistics showed that we were the second safest police force area in terms of crimes per 1,000 people.
I still think that there’s room for improvement though. Too many of you tell me that anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in your community worries you, violent crime still blights too many lives, and too many people are killed or seriously injured on our roads. There are also many ‘non-crime’ incidents here that police have to be resourced for, such as searches for vulnerable missing people, and the calls for help to our 999 and 101 services continue to rise.
Devon and Cornwall Police has a proud history of community policing that we should be proud of when world leaders come here for the G7 summit in June. And for those concerned about the impact of this event on policing in their communities should rest assured, the bill is being picked up by central Government and mutual aid will mean significant additional resources from other UK forces will be available.
The panel members around the table seldom agree on everything, but on Friday we were unanimous in our agreement that our officers and staff, who have served us so valiantly in a year that has challenged like few in living memory, deserve investment in their ranks and our backing.
They did challenge me with a number of additional recommendations, such as an increase to the commissioning budget which pays for so much good work in our communities, which I will now go back and consider in detail.
But to all of you who help fund our world class police force I’d like to thank you for creating a service that this time next year will be bigger, better and more visible because of you.