New police commissioners defy council tax freeze appeal

Police officers on the beat The public like to see police officers on the beat but they have to be funded

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They've been in office for less than three months but the new police and crime commissioners are already having to make a big decision.

Should they look to raise council tax to bring in extra funds, or should they listen to the government and freeze the charge?

There seems to be little agreement amongst the UK's 41 commissioners.

While some will offer freezes, others are putting up the charge by up to 7%.

In all around two-thirds may end up asking the public to pay more.

Causing consternation

There's little pattern politically with commissioners of all parties on different sides.

But in some areas those rises are causing consternation.

Northumbria's Labour commissioner Vera Baird has gone for a 3.5% increase in her force's council tax bill.

But she's been given a rough ride by both political opponents and allies.

Start Quote

David Faulkner

The net figure the commissioner would have had to find for savings is £700,000 out of a budget of £300 million - I think that's achievable”

End Quote Cllr David Faulkner Liberal Democrat, Newcastle

Her budget is scrutinised by a Police and Crime panel made up partly of local council leaders.

Many of those have made sacrifices and savings to try and deliver a council tax freeze to their residents.

But now of course all people in the force area will pay more from April because of Vera Baird's decision.

She faced some tough questions when she met them, with some refusing to support the rise.

And Liberal Democrat Newcastle councillor David Faulkner believes the commissioner should have offered a freeze.

He said: "I appreciate the difficulty of anyone having to deal with budget reductions.

"But when the Chief Constable came to the city council a few months ago, she said she'd protect the front line but she didn't say council tax would have to go up to achieve that.

"Bearing in mind there is a government grant available to anyone who freezes the charge, the net figure the commissioner would have had to find for savings is £700,000 out of a budget of £300 million.

"I think that's achievable."

Inflationary rise

The rise will though go ahead, but Vera Baird believes it is the right option.

The 3.5% might sound inflationary but Northumbria's police charge is the lowest in England.

Council tax bill The government says commissioners are morally obliged to deliver a council tax freeze

The rise will cost a Band D property owner an extra £2.93 next year - less than 6p per week.

It'll raise £1 million and pay for 50 officers.

Vera Baird says she has cut her own office costs, and so the extra funds will be some compensation for the 20% budget cuts the force has had to implement.

She said: "The Chief Constable has made it very clear that she is almost at breaking point because she has had to make such cuts and she has promised to protect the front-line.

"This is a small amount of money which when collected together will pay for 50 bobbies.

"We have just done a survey and 82% of those who responded said they would pay up to 10p a week more to fund these bobbies so we feel this is comfortably within what people can tolerate."

Public approval

But what might have wound up local council leaders is that if she had been one of them, Vera Baird would have been forced to hold a referendum on the 3.5% rise.

Start Quote

Vera Baird

This is a small amount of money which when collected together will pay for 50 bobbies”

End Quote Vera Baird Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner

A quirk in the rules though means that forces with a relatively low council tax charge can raise it by up to £5 on a Band D property without asking for public approval.

Neighbouring forces though have had to keep the increase below 2% to avoid a referendum.

Cleveland, Cumbria and Durham's commissioners have all gone for 2% or less.

But because their tax charges are historically higher than Northumbria's, their cash demands will actually go up by more.

In Durham, a Band D householder will pay an extra £3.07.

In Cumbria, the extra bill adds £3.87 a year, and in Cleveland, it's £3.89.

All of the commissioners say the rise will help keep more officers on the beat.

Morally obliged

But the decision is unlikely to go down well with the government.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles says councils and commissioners are morally obliged to deliver a freeze and he says grants are on offer to any who hold the charge at 2012 levels.

But that grant is only equivalent to about a 1% council tax rise and only lasts a year, so many forces will recoup more money by refusing the government aid and charging local taxpayers extra.

Even those asking for more money are unlikely to be able to increase the number of officers.

The cuts in government funding still in the pipeline far outstrip any extra revenue from council tax receipts.

But the coalition can draw comfort from the fact that crime is still falling despite those cuts.

And it seems likely that next year the government will get even tougher with councils and commissioners who ask for more tax.

This then may be the last hurrah for those looking to extract more money from council taxpayers.

Richard Moss Article written by Richard Moss Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Well done Northumberlanders ... you got what you voted for, Redcar's rejected LABOUR MP and she's probably non-negotiable too, someone who will continue to DEFY this Government's call for council-tax freeze and make you all pay for the financial cuts to police budgets ... some might THAT'S PROGRESS, but I think Sir Robert Peel would see it as brownie-points chasing and all so unacceptable !

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Same old 'Animal Farm', doesn't anybody ever learn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Richard in june 2013 ask her how many extra bobbies are on her beats
    don't forget she said 50? and if by next years precept the number is lower we should get a rebate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Another bunch of crooks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    To all those that say "Save money.".

    If we all tightened our belts - first our legs would drop off.

    But no doubt we would still be buying in cheap tat from China,
    How do we pay for it all?
    Not by not spending locally..

    Like it or not we are all going to pay.
    Unless you are Eton educated toffs in government that is.
    For them life is but a game.
    Paid for by squabbling little people. Us plebs....

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    At a time when the home secretary is cutting the wages of policeofficers joining and yet psco with little of no powers compared to the man in the street
    get at least £3000 a year more, this is crazy logic. yet Baird employs someone with A PENSION over 30k and she gives him a salary of 60k ?? Ask Lord John Stevens the best Chief Northumbria ever had, about boobies on the street

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I said at the time pcc's were brought in to take the blame for government cuts, when things go wrong the gov can simply say it was'nt us, blame the PCC, same reason the NHS budget is going to be handed over to the doctors . Sad thing is neither the docs or the pcc's saw this coming, more interested in the salarys I suspect.

    cunning way for government to deflect blame for their incompetence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Well I hope all those that wanted this "democracy" is pleased. Wait till they start becoming as corrupt as US commissioners or mps. Yet another class of politicians costing more money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Elected with the lowest turnout ever, one of their first acts is to raise the taxes of the law-abiding, and make them more poor.

    Who are the fraudsters and thieves?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    "This is a small amount of money, which when collected together will pay for 50 Bobbies" Says Vera Baird Northumbria PCC.

    She's learned the art of spin. This will not fund 50 extra Bobbies; most of it will go on feathering the nests of the new elite!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Local accountability is no more. This is their opening shot. As time goes by and they get used to their power, admin staff will increase in numbers. They will require a HQ building. They'll require a larger salery to reflect their importance. This is the birth of an organisation that will suck more money from the council tax payer. This will only get worse!



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