The Panel must review the proposed precept.
Having considered the precept, the Panel will either:
· Support the precept without qualification or comment;
· Support the precept and make recommendations, or
· Veto the proposed precept
6.1 The Police and Crime Commissioner introduced the report which proposed that:
Funding for the proposed £119.912m 2019/20 revenue budget would require a police related Band D Council Tax element of £250.49. This represented an increase of 10.6% in the police related Band D Council Tax or £24 for the year.
6.2 The Panel had received a briefing in January to ensure that members had the background to the budget and an understanding of the options available. The Commissioner set out the proposal outlining the work being carried out by the OPCC and the work on consulting with the public. He outlined the financial pressures nationally and that, aside from a small increase in the previous year, the police locally had not seen any increase in funding since 2010. The balance between local funding and national funding was now at about 50:50 with Gloucestershire receiving one of the smallest grants from national government. He explained how the Constabulary had managed despite the financial pressures and the consequences of cuts. The Constabulary reserves had been used appropriately and not for the day to day running of the force. HMIC had commended the Constabulary on the way the reductions in funding had been managed.
6.3 It was the Commissioner’s assessment that the Constabulary remained strong, but he felt that the Constabulary was now facing a pivotal point, and that the strain was beginning to show. He felt that if the cuts were not reversed the Force would be weakened and not able to deliver the service the public expected. This was a planned approach to take any flexibility provided by central government with regards to funding. The Commissioner had lobbied MPs to support additional investment from government.
6.4 The Commissioner explained that he had asked the Chief Constable to demonstrate how he would look to use any additional funding and how he had used the increase in funding he had received the previous year. The Chief Constable and his officers had provided this detail. For the proposals outlined by the Constabulary there would be a lead in time to see the benefits, in particular around the recruitment of officers. Members noted the detail in a letter from the Chief Constable on how the additional funding would be provided. This included funding alongside the priorities within the Police and Crime Plan. The Commissioner emphasised the funding for the multi-agency safeguarding hub noting its importance in providing a better service for young people.
6.5 Referring to the previous presentation on Safe and Social Driving, the Commissioner outlined additional funding proposed in this area for roads policing and collision investigation. In addition there was additional money proposed to support adults at risk and Safer Cyber, in particular the digital forensics unit.
6.6 The Commissioner explained that performance in Gloucestershire around 999 calls was good but calls were increasing rapidly. In addition 101 calls were also increasing rapidly.
6.7 The Commissioner summarised that it was a measured and fair budget with intelligent proposals from the Constabulary as to how additional funding would be used.
6.8 In support of the increase, a member explained that there was an opportunity to help relieve pressures on policing. It was recognised that once that funding was in the base budget it would be there year after year. If the option of not asking for an increase was taken then that weakened the argument back to central government around additional funding. One member outlined the shift towards local funding and raised concerns around council tax as a non-progressive form of taxation. Concern was expressed around reductions in funding potentially leading to year on year increases in crime.
6.9 In response to a question, the Commissioner explained there was no additional funding in the budget going to a review of fire service governance as that review was complete and a decision would be made in the coming weeks. He reminded members that he had received a grant from government to carry out much of that work.
6.10 One member noted the recruitment of police officers noting that with the current numbers in training that would bring the Constabulary up to the planned establishment. He referred to the letter from the Chief Constable noting the aspirations within the letter based on the additional funding spread across the priorities. It was stated that there was no explanation around how the increase would affect the establishment and how that would be spread across the areas. In response it was explained that there would be an additional 50 police officers and 30 police staff. PCSOs would remain at the same level. There had been a planned increase in recruitment and the numbers should be up by the end of the financial year.
6.11 One member recognised that the budget could be balanced by a 2.5% increase and that with the core funding being one of the lowest, by increasing the precept it was putting the cost of policing on the public and the most vulnerable would be the hardest hit. He asked why the Commissioner wasn’t doing more to put pressure on central government. The Commissioner stated that this was not something he could change. There was a funding formula in place and commissioners had been lobbying to have that changed. It was understood that this would be considered as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The Commissioner stated that he had raised it on multiple occasions and was meeting with the Home Secretary. If the full amount wasn’t asked for, the Commissioner felt that the Constabulary would be weakened. It was not enough to just balance the budget, investment was needed.
6.12 It was explained that the National Police Chiefs’ Council had made a full submission to Government on the issue of police funding. There would be a planned communication approach to ensure communities understood about the reasons for the increase in precept.
6.13 One member asked for a ‘strapline’ of what the public would get for the increase in the precept. The Commissioner explained that in meeting members of the public he felt that they understood the pressures on the police. He explained that the police would only see an increase in funding of the council tax element of spending which was around 50% of the budget and that from government they were receiving nothing. The member requested something from the Commissioner’s Office’s communication team to help communicate that message.
6.14 In response to a question on the precept in future years, the Commissioner explained that he did not want to see an increase of this nature next year.
6.15 One member explained that a number of the public would just be concerned with whether the Chief Constable had enough officers to do the job. The Chief Constable felt that the investment was needed in order to save the County further issues and the need for greater investment in the future. In addition, the member asked that there be more scrutiny of the Commissioner’s Fund to ensure the public understood how that money was used and whether it had good outcomes. The Commissioner stated that he welcomed the challenge.
6.16 The Chairman noted the previous year’s Commissioner’s Fund carry forward from the reserves. The Chief Finance Officer projected the carry-forward would reduce from around £700,000 to £500,000 in the following year. The commitment on projects was over a three year period and so the reserves would continue to come down.
6.17 One member commented that it was for the Commissioner to justify the increase in the precept and for the Chief Constable to show how that money could be spent. He noted a growth in the office of the Commissioner and asked whether that money could have been used in a different way. In response it was explained that this related to additional work within the office and included a number of commissioning positions. There had also been the introduction of a part time post to consider complaints both of which would relieve police officers and staff of such work..
6.18 One member was concerned about the
level of reserves noting the figures in the paper which outlined
reserves in 2017 at 7% higher than the national average. The member
expressed concern that central government might look at the levels
of unused reserves in the future and use that as a reason to not
provide funding. The Chief Finance Officer stated he would look to
identify the Constabulary’s reserve figures compared to
national figures for 2018.
ACTION Peter Skelton
6.19 In response to a question it was explained that there was a continuous programme of savings. There were areas that were being looked at but no decisions had been made. 2020/21 savings were higher because it was part of a transformation strategy which included ICT investment.
6.20 One member outlined the fact that funding decisions made by government had led to fewer police officers and less visible policing. He stated that this was the message to the public as to why the precept was required to be raised by 10.6%.
6.21 One member emphasised the increasing demand from cyber-crime and suggested that big technology companies should be contributing to funding rather than the burden being placed on those that found it hardest to pay. He was interested in the Commissioner’s view on the impact of technology and what he was doing to lobby on this issue. The Commissioner explained that technology was now in every part of policing. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners met regularly and lobbied government that a proportion of funding should be coming from those companies. The Chief Constable outlined the complexities of cyber-crime and the particular skills required by the Constabulary. The Constabulary was working to adapt to respond to this.
6.22 One member asked whether there was any money in the budget to help support the health and wellbeing of the staff. The Chief Constable explained that work was being carried out on a strategy for this so it was felt that sufficient resources were in place..
6.23 Following the discussion on the proposed 2019/20 budget and precept, the Panel were asked to decide whether they:
Supported the precept without qualification or comment
Supported the precept and make recommendations, or
Veto the proposed precept
It was Resolved that:
The proposed police precept for 2019/20 be supported with the following recommendation:
That the Panel supports the Police and Crime Commissioner in making representations to the Home Office and HM treasury seeking that a proportion of police funding is provided by the large technology companies in order to fund policing of Cyber Crime.