North Wales Police faces cuts after tax vote, says chief constable

The chief constable of North Wales Police says his force will have to make an extra £900,000 of cuts following a decision about the money he gets from council tax payers.

The police precept in North Wales will rise by 2.5%, the smallest increase in Wales.

Mark Polin said he was disappointed the police authority had moved away from "the agreed financial strategy".

Precept decisions for the Dyfed-Powys and Gwent forces were also agreed.

People in the Dyfed-Powys force area will see a 5% increase in bills, while in the Gwent force area it will be 2.66%.

South Wales had previously announced a 5% rise.

North Wales Police Authority voted on Friday to increase its precept by 2.5% from April after a proposal to freeze it was out-voted.

The increase was also smaller than the 4% recommended by the authority's financial officers, and followed an often animated discussion in the meeting at St Asaph.

Mr Polin said: "I recognise that it was a difficult decision for the police authority today.

"Clearly I am disappointed that at such a late stage the authority has moved away from the agreed financial strategy, against the advice of their treasurer, and I am now concerned that the strategy moving forward has not been determined by the authority to accompany the effect of the decision.

"Today's decision means that the force now needs to cut an additional £900k from its budget each year.

"We will now take stock and examine how that funding will be found."

'Smaller organisation'

He said this would be particularly difficult because much of the organisation had "already been comprehensively reviewed to drive out savings, as the authority recognised today".

"Given that 80% of our budget is expended on staff it is inevitable that today's decision will result ultimately in North Wales Police being a still smaller organisation," he said.

"It will therefore affect our ability to employ the same number people and cause us to reconsider our recruitment plans for the coming year."

Independent authority member Chris Drew had proposed a freeze, because North Wales Police currently had over £26m in reserves.

But the authority's treasurer, Nigel Thomas, said most of the money in reserves was needed, including £10m to cover the cost of a new police station in Wrexham.

Mr Polin had warned that further cuts would be necessary if the authority did not increase the precept.

'Financial challenges'

The proposal for no increase in the precept was lost by four votes to nine. Members of the authority voted in favour of an alternative proposal of a 2.5% increase.

Gwent Police Authority was the first to approve its figures on Friday, agreeing a 2.66% increase on the amount council tax payers must contribute in 2012-13. That means an extra £5 on Band D property bills.

Chair Cilla Davies said: "One of the key reasons for the increase is that the funding Gwent Police receives from government is being reduced by around 20% over the next four years.

"In reality the budget available to the authority in 2014/15 will be very similar as that received in 2009/10.

"The police authority has listened and taken into account what residents are telling us, and whilst we are fully aware of the current financial challenges facing many households, we believe that today's announcement strikes a fair balance."

Dyfed-Powys Police Authority agreed a council tax precept of £198.54 for a Band D property, representing an increase of 5% or £9.45 per year on the level in 2011/12.

Chief constable Ian Arundale said: "The force still has to make significant cost reductions and while today's news is welcome it will not necessarily improve our situation it will just stop things from getting any worse.

"The 5% precept rise will not help the force to grow but what it will do is help to stabilise our cost reductions at 20%.

'Iconic case'

"I understand the financial crisis is difficult for everyone and I want to assure people in the communities we serve in mid and west Wales that our priority remains protecting the frontline as far as possible."

Before the meeting, Mr Arundale said one area that could be affected by funding cuts would be cold case reviews citing the "huge iconic case" of John Cooper, who was jailed in 2011 for four Pembrokeshire murders and other offences which he carried out in the 1980s.

South Wales Police Authority has already agreed that council tax payers will contribute an extra 5% towards the cost of policing.

It will mean a Band D home will pay an extra £8.07 per year, taking the amount being paid to £169.42.

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