Essex Police defend maximum council tax hike and announce new £12.4m ‘cost pressures’

Nick Alston, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner.

Nick Alston, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner. - Credit: Su Anderson

Essex Police faces new “cost pressures” of £12.4million and are increasing the precept element of council tax by the maximum level in the next financial year.

Police chiefs today spoke of the “historic under-funding” at the force but insisted measures are being taken to protect “vulnerable people” in communities and the number of officers.

The overall base budget for Essex Police was £262.5m for the current financial year and is set to rise by around £800,000 to £263.3m for 2016/17.

But the force announced it “will face new and unavoidable cost pressures” of £12.4m in the next financial year.

This includes: £1.7m for inflationary pressures; £7.2m which includes an additional £4.5m in National Insurance payments, and increments in police officer and staff pay; £2.4m for to service existing obligations; and £1.1m for insurance costs.

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In a 1,000-plus word statement, Nick Alston, police and crime commissioner for Essex, defended tax increases and spoke of the challenges facing the police force next year.

Essex Police chief constable Stephen Kavanagh also echoed his views, saying a tax rise of 10p per week would “keep more PCSOs (police community support officers) within the force” and “tackle changing crime in the county”.

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Mr Alston said: “It has been my firm and consistent view since becoming police and crime commissioner that Essex Police is under-funded for the tasks we ask of it and by comparison with other police forces.

“The changing nature of crime in our county requires increased investment to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“It is essential that Essex Police is as efficient as it can be, and I will continue to work with the chief constable to ensure efficiencies are delivered. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has repeatedly found that Essex Police provides better value for money than most other police forces.

“We have a deep programme of collaboration with Kent Police, including significant sharing of back office functions, and we are collaborating increasingly closely with other forces in the east of England. We have the lowest reserves in the country, so we do not have the option of absorbing cost pressures by reducing our reserves.

“But it is right that we continue to look for efficiencies to ensure public money is spent primarily on keeping the public safe.

“At the national level, I will continue to make the case for a review of the funding formula which determines individual police force allocations across the country.

“Changes to this national funding formula proposed by the Home Office last year would have seen funding for Essex Police increase by more than £10 million.

“Unfortunately, due to a technical error in the Home Office, the proposal had to be dropped and the funding formula is now subject to a further review later this year. This hopefully will increase the amount of central funding received here in our county.

“I have presented a detailed budget plan, including a proposed increase of just under £5 per year in local council tax for policing, to the Police and Crime Panel for their consideration on January 29, 2016.

“In practical terms, as an area with a historically low policing precept, the government has stated that the police and crime commissioner can increase the policing part of council tax by just under 10 pence a week, or £4.95 a year in 2016/17.

“Such an increase would enable me to increase the base budget for Essex Police by £3.8 million to £266.3 million, from which the £12.4 million of cost pressures will need to be absorbed.

“I am conscious that proposing an increase in the precept will add to the council tax bill that all of us living in Essex will face from April 2016. However I believe it is essential that we increase our commitment to protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities whilst preserving the strongest local policing teams possible. This is the message I have heard consistently from communities right across the county week by week.

“The budget includes increased investment in specialist police officers and police staff to tackle child sexual exploitation, child abuse, serious sexual offences and domestic abuse. There will be an increased investigative capacity to tackle these often horrific crimes, and greater support and safeguarding for victims. There will also be significant investment in the training needed to equip officers to investigate internet enabled and cyber crime that is now affecting individuals and businesses across the county.

“During the autumn of 2015, I held a series of public meetings, providing opportunities for the people of Essex to put their questions and raise their concerns directly with the chief constable, with local police officers, and with me. We have listened carefully to the points made. We recognise the importance people place on crimes such as burglary, theft from cars and criminal damage, and on visible policing.

“Whilst funding for local policing regrettably has to reduce further by around £7 million, the new Community Policing Teams will work with response officers to continue to address these crimes and stay connected with local people. We have also changed the plans from those originally announced in October 2015 so that we will now keep more PCSOs, 90 posts in total, in addition to those who are directly funded by local councils, as a key part of those Community Policing Teams. I commend those councils choosing to invest with Essex Police in local policing.

“As part of the changes already announced, customer contact administrator posts will reduce from 98 to 36 as police front counters reduce in number from 25 to 10 in April 2016. I have met and talked with many PCSOs and front counter staff, and I have huge respect for their continued professionalism and dignity during these difficult months when they have faced uncertainty about their futures. There are many valued colleagues who will be sorely missed.

“It is also imperative to invest for the future. We need to improve the training of police officers, detectives and police staff. We must modernise the Essex Police estate to ensure we stop haemorrhaging millions of pounds each year just to maintain often crumbling buildings in their existing poor condition.

“As part of this we will deliver a new Essex Police Headquarters that is modern and fit for purpose both now and for many years to come. Finally we must modernise the ways that the public can contact the police to better reflect the way we now live our lives. Very few people report crimes at police stations, and we must make it possible for members of the public to use secure online systems both to tell police about crimes and track the progress of investigations.

“The future will see our police officers equipped with digital technology enabling them to work on the road rather than stuck inside police stations. Response officers and locally based specialists will work together with the new Community Policing Teams, who in turn will work ever more closely with local councils from local partnership hubs to tackle persistent criminal and nuisance behaviour.

“All of these necessary changes will increase the effectiveness of Essex Police, deliver better value for money, and enable Essex Police to respond as well as possible to the demands of changing crime and changing communities over the coming years.”

Subject to the outcome of a police and crime panel meeting scheduled for January 29, Essex Police will retain 90 full-time equivalent PCSO roles directly funded by the force, a 50% increase on the number originally proposed in October 2015 as part of the force’s transformation programme. A further nine roles will be directly funded by third party organisations.

The force is also set to invest in around 20 roles for officers in local teams trained in the investigation of digital crime including online fraud.

Chief constable Kavanagh said: “The historic under-funding of Essex Police continues to undermine my ability to deliver the consistency of policing to local people I and they expect. I have made this case to the PCC and welcome his willingness to seek a further increase in policing precept.

“An increase of around 10p per week would keep more PCSOs within the force, tackle changing crime in the county and is the best way of protecting and serving the people of Essex.

“The announcements from Government on police funding over the last few months have been broadly positive but the need to change what we do and to do it more efficiently hasn’t gone away. Keeping Essex safe costs just 40p per person per day, making Essex Police the cheapest force in the country.

“We need to invest in tackling evil crimes like domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation. We need to make sure officers are trained in digital crimes like online fraud, which is growing and causing serious damage. But we also need to clear that sure our decisions to prioritise and invest involve difficult choices about what we do less of.

“It’s clear from listening to our partners and the public that the regard in which I hold PCSOs is matched in communities they serve. Retaining 30 more PCSOs than provided for in our proposals last year will help deliver a renewed but realistic commitment to local policing which acts first on the highest risk and harm incidents and works closely with our partners to solve neighbourhood problems.”

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