Council Tax bills set to rise again

By Danielle NuttallCrime CorrespondentRESIDENTS have been warned to brace themselves for the likelihood of a steep rise in the amount of Council Tax they pay towards policing the county.

By Danielle Nuttall

Crime Correspondent

RESIDENTS have been warned to brace themselves for the likelihood of a steep rise in the amount of Council Tax they pay towards policing the county.

Suffolk Police Authority said yesterday it could not rule out the possibility of further increases in its Council Tax bill next year as it grappled with rising costs and a shortfall in Government funding.

The Council Tax includes charges for county council, district or borough council, police and town or parish council services.

This year's bill included a 33.4% rise in the cost of policing - one of the highest in the country.

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Christine Laverock, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said: “We know that it will be unacceptable for the Council Tax payer to put those Council Tax rises on.

“We can do all the campaigning and lobbying, but I suspect with everything we have heard from the Home Secretary that it's not looking good. This is a grim situation.

“If we cannot influence the Government's funding, we might have to put a huge increase on Council Tax.”

Mrs Laverock said Home Secretary David Blunkett had indicated the level of funding the Government would allocate for Suffolk next year would be “difficult” for the force.

Police authority member Peter Purnell described next year's financial situation as “armageddon” and said more funding was needed to match the service demands.

A report to Suffolk Police Authority said it was likely to receive a settlement “at least as tight” as this year's and would probably be 3% at the very most.

That could take the charge for policing in next year's Council Tax bills for the average band D taxpayer £109.49 to £128 - a rise of 17%.

Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said: “There are indications that the budget settlement we will get is likely to be very low in comparison to other forces. I do not even know if it's going to cover inflation.”

He added the force had made significant improvements in service in terms of the Suffolk First initiative to be the safest county in England, but warned funding was needed to maintain this.

“We have 10 extra staff in the criminal justice unit to keep up with the volume of paperwork coming through and that will be a continuing resourcing issue for the coming year,” said Mr McWhirter.

Suffolk police have asked market research company MORI to interview 1,000 people across the county about what issues they felt should be prioritised in the force and how much they were prepared to pay for policing.

The research will be conducted next month and will assess how much of a rise in council tax would be acceptable to the public in order to continue or improve the current level of service.

Members of the police authority are due to discuss the budget at a meeting in January.

Meanwhile, Suffolk police have rejected claims its helicopter was being over-used for trivial offences, insisting it is a vital crime-fighting tool that reassured the public.

Concerns were raised at the Suffolk Police Authority meeting that the helicopter was a “status symbol” that cost a “fortune” to run.

But Mr McWhirter said: “It's hard to put a price on people's lives. It can cover areas that officers on foot could not.”

He pointed to the helicopter's importance in policing major events, such as the England international match at Portman Road, and its benefit in carrying out searches, such as for a boy who went missing from a beach in Walberswick.

Assistant Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt added the cost of deploying the helicopter had to be balanced by savings in officers' time on the ground and its effectiveness as a crime deterrent.

n Thirty of the 91 persistent offenders in Suffolk are currently behind bars, Suffolk Police Authority was told.

Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said: “They get a gold service, which is where we lock them up. The aim is to pick them up for whatever we can and put them before the courts. Our aim is to get them off the streets.”

He also spoke of the continuing battle against crack cocaine and other class A drug dealers in the county.

“I want to keep a lid on it. I don't want to see associated violence with the drug market coming in,” said Mr McWhirter.

“We are having some seizures of firearms recently and I don't want to get into the situation with gun crime that there is in some of the larger urban areas. We have the potential for that if we are not careful.”

danielle.nuttall@eadt.co.uk

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