Tax hike feared to avoid police cuts

SUFFOLK'S taxpayers could be asked to reach deep into their pockets yet again – or face stinging cutbacks in the police service, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

SUFFOLK'S taxpayers could be asked to reach deep into their pockets yet again – or face stinging cutbacks in the police service, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

The county is likely to be left disappointed when the Home Secretary reveals police funding for 2004 next week, when it is thought the majority of cash will be given to large city forces.

As a result, the police precept in the council tax – which has rocketed by 113% in the last six years – would once again have to rise to fund any shortfall.

And, in a letter to the region's MPs, Suffolk Police Authority vice-chairman Maggie Lee has urged them to lobby Parliament for more cash or taxpayers could "expect a lesser service".

Police are expecting a rise in funding of around 2.5% from the Government – but need 7% to just stand still.

However, the Home Office insisted last night the figure was just "pure speculation" as the settlements had not yet been finalised.

Most Read

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said he had been told that for every 1% increase in police funding, the precept must rise by 3.5%.

As a result the police precept in the council tax would have to rise by at least 15.5%. For a typical band D house, that is a jump of around £17 a year, while it works out as a hike of more than £13 for a band B property.

Mr Ruffley claimed: "We are going to get a low budget purely because the money is getting siphoned off to the bigger cities - the government is taking away from rural areas and giving it to its friends in the northern Labour heartlands.

"It is disgraceful and I find it completely unacceptable. I will be writing to the Home Secretary to complain about this discrimination in very strong terms."

Mr Ruffley added: "At a time when violent crime in Suffolk is up by more than 20%, on what basis does the Home Secretary think that money for fighting crime can be taken away from Suffolk?

"These council tax increases are mind-boggling and depressing."

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring added: "The Suffolk Constabulary do an excellent job but are being remorselessly under-funded.

"We have to secure additional funding from central government. We cannot keep going back to the council taxpayer and asking them to pay sums of money which people simply cannot afford - this is a completely unacceptable situation.

"The Suffolk Police Authority should be beating their drum ferociously in Whitehall to get additional funding with which we can fight crime in Suffolk."

Reg Hartles, who formed the pressure group Protest Against Council Taxes Suffolk (PACTS), echoed the MPs' views

"Everyone wants a policeman down their street but this can't go on," he said. "If central government are under-funding these divisions then we've got to get them to do something about it."

Christine Laverock, chairman of the Suffolk Police Authority, confirmed that Mr Ruffley's figures were correct.

She added: "At the moment, with the information we have, we are very concerned because every time we hear David Blunkett speak he says it's going to be very difficult and very tight - it is going to present us with some very real difficulties.

"If the funding we get is not adequate to enable us to maintain the current level of expenditure, then there will be a rise in our council tax precept."

On the back of last year's 33% rise in the precept, Mrs Laverock admitted to being "concerned" about the way in which taxpayers may react to yet another hike.

"Since last year's rise we have had some criticism," she added. "It's particularly hard for those on a low fixed income and pensioners.

"We are consulting every sector of the community to their views as to whether they are willing to pay more, and we are also looking at our existing expenditure to see if we can make savings.

"It concerns me that there are both increases in crime at the moment, as well as ever-increasing demands on the service and high public expectations.

"But, if the situation is as tight as we are led to believe, then we are facing either looking at cuts in services or an increase in the council tax precept.

"We haven't looked into what types of cuts we could make yet, and it's not easy because we would be sacrificing the quality of service that we have built up.

"However, that is the route that we will have to consider if we feel that we don't have the public support for a rise in the police precept."

Responding to Mr Spring, Mrs Laverock added: "I think that is unfair.

"I have taken every opportunity to raise our concerns with Police Minister Hazel Blears and David Blunkett, and I feel I have done as much as I can.

"I think both the Home Secretary and the Police Minister are very well aware of the concerns that we have, but it seems they are saying there is no more money available."

A Home Office spokeswoman said last night the 2.5% settlement figure was "pure speculation", adding: "Police authority settlements haven't been agreed for the next year and therefore we are not prepared to comment further."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter