Would you pay more council tax to help fund policing in Norfolk? That is the question being posed by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
PCC Lorne Green will soon have to decide whether to increase or freeze the policing element of council tax to fund next year’s policing service, and he wants to know what the Norfolk public thinks.
By law, the PCC can only raise policing council tax by a maximum of just under 2% – a cap fixed by central government.
But, as well as giving Norfolk’s communities the chance to vote for a freeze or a 2% rise for 2018/19, for the first time Lorne will be asking if they would be willing to pay even more if the central government cap is lifted – a possibility in mid-December.
“What I am asking is do you support a freeze, keeping policing council tax at last year’s level or do you support a rise? And, if so, please tell me the maximum amount you would be prepared to pay,” said Lorne.
“I am now 18 months into my work as your PCC and, during my time in office, I have become increasingly aware of just how challenging the financial situation is for policing in our county.
“Grant funding from central government continues to reduce year on year but policing costs are increasing, along with demands for service. If austerity continues, Norfolk Constabulary will need to make cuts of between £2 million and £3 million every year just to cover inflation. The Government has made it clear it expects me to increase the policing element of council tax by the maximum I can to help bridge the gap. That budget gap in 2018/19 is estimated to be £6.8 million.
“The Chief Constable has recently announced a new policing model for Norfolk which he says will ensure the Force is best placed to tackle the biggest threats to the safety of our communities, while also maintaining neighbourhood policing and being more sustainable in the current financial climate. He also says, however, that further difficult decisions will be needed to balance the 2018/19 policing budget.
“I, along with other PCCs, have been lobbying central government to look again at police funding and lift the council tax limit above the 2% maximum. This would allow PCCs more flexibility to set council tax levels in response to funding challenges and local policing needs.
“To help inform my budget decision if that were to happen, I would like to know what you would be prepared to pay next year for policing in Norfolk.
“Some 58% of Norfolk’s policing budget is funded by central government, meaning your council tax makes up the rest so I want all Norfolk residents to have the opportunity to have their say.
“There are lots of ways you can share your views, not least through the online survey on the Norfolk PCC website. Please take the time to have your say as your views are important to me.”
The initial two options Norfolk residents are being asked to consider are:
- No Increase in the policing element of council tax
A freeze on the policing element of council tax would mean a funding gap for the Constabulary in 2018/19 of £6.8m. Some £4m of savings have been identified at this stage, including £2m from the frontline local policing model (Norfolk 2020) announced by the Chief Constable in October. This leaves £2.8m still to find. The Chief Constable says further savings of this magnitude would mean some very difficult choices about even deeper reductions in frontline operational and support functions, mindful that 80% of the budget is staff costs.
- Increasing the policing element of Council Tax by just under 2%
A council tax increase of just under 2% (the maximum amount currently permitted by central government) is equivalent to 8 pence extra per week (at Band D) and would raise £1.2m. This is not ‘additional money’; it will simply offset an expected £1.2m reduction in central government grant. This would leave the Constabulary with £1.6m of savings to find, in addition to the £4m already identified. The recently announced local policing model would be protected but the Chief Constable says this £1.6m would need to come from other operational and support areas of the budget. This would also mean some difficult decisions for the Constabulary.
In addition, if they support an increase, taxpayers are being asked how much they would be prepared to pay if the cap were to be lifted. The options being presented are:
- Up to an extra 19 pence per week (a 4.5% increase)
This would raise £2.8m which, alongside the £4m of savings already identified would, on present projections, balance the budget for next year. This would mean that the frontline local policing model announced in October would be protected.
- Up to an extra 25 pence per week (a 6% increase)
This would raise £3.6m and, alongside the £4m of savings already identified, would enable the budget to be balanced. This option would provide an opportunity, on present projections, to make some modest increases in local policing.
- Up to an extra 50 pence per week (a 12% increase)
This would raise £7.2m and enable significant additional investment in frontline local and operational policing.
The consultation will run until Friday 22 December and people can have their say via an online survey or by getting in contact with the Norfolk PCC office. Hard copies of the survey are also available on request.
The PCC will take his budget proposals to the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel on 6 February 2018.