Taxpayers asked to pay more for police
SUFFOLK Police Authority is set to raise its share of homeowners' council tax bills by 7% in April, it has been revealed.The figure was announced by the police authority's chairman, Christine Laverock, at a Suffolk County Council meeting yesterday.
SUFFOLK Police Authority is set to raise its share of homeowners' council tax bills by 7% in April, it has been revealed.
The figure was announced by the police authority's chairman, Christine Laverock, at a Suffolk County Council meeting yesterday. It will amount to an extra £5.94 a year on Band D properties in the county
Mrs Laverock also revealed a series of measures to plug a £6million hole in the force's budget, including spending more than £1m of its reserves and borrowing £8m to fund capital projects.
There will also be a reduction in the number of police staff posts, but she insisted the number of police officers would not be affected.
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Mrs Laverock told councillors the authority's council tax precept needed to rise by 7% to keep services at the same level.
Band D property owners currently pay a precept to the police of £119.50, which was a rise of 9.5% on the 2003-4 figure.
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She said the issue would be debated at a meeting of the police authority next Friday, as would a series of measures to tackle the force's budget deficit.
The authority chairman said they would include borrowing £8m to fund capital projects and taking £1.2m out of the force's reserves to balance the books.
Mrs Laverock said: "We will have to start borrowing to pay for capital projects. It will be the first year we have had to borrow for many years. We will also have to dip into the reserves."
The chairman added the force had identified savings of 1.5% - roughly £1.5m – which would be achieved by "reallocating and combining" police staff posts.
Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter had previously said the level of police staff posts would have to be reduced by about 40.
"There is a whole issue around reducing police staff – the work still has to be done," said Mrs Laverock.
The financial situation had been eased by an extra £500,000 settlement from the Government, she said, but it remained a tight situation and the problems were long-term.
"We've still got difficult decisions to make. We are not out of the woods yet, but we have made some really good headway. But the decisions we will find really hard are not this coming year, but the year after that," said Mrs Laverock.
Phil Smith, general secretary of Suffolk Police Federation, said the authority was facing a "difficult conundrum".
He said: "I think the hole in the budget should be made up by central Government.
"It's fair to say people living in rural locations are feeling somewhat let down by the Government of this country. Money is poured into inner city policing but perhaps rural areas have different problems that need policing.
"While there is a criticism of central Government, to some degree I welcome the increase in that we want to maintain police officer numbers in Suffolk.
"Do I think the public will mind? I do not know. We appear to be getting increases year after year and everyone says the public are happy with that but I don't know how much longer they will be happy with that."
Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said he had raised the issue of police funding with the home secretary after Mr McWhirter warned him of the possible rise.
He added the measures to combat the budget deficiency would not be good for police morale and would burden council taxpayers with an increase of more than four-and-a-half times the rate of inflation in the police authority's share.
He said: "This is absolutely typical. Time and time again the people of Suffolk are getting the short straw.
"Suffolk Constabulary does a very good job but they are very stretched."
Responding to councillors' questions, the police authority chairman also revealed the number of police officers had risen from 1,183 in 1997 – when Labour came to power – to 1,313 last year.
In that time, the force's budget had risen from £64m to £102m and overall crime has fallen by 5%, she said.
Mrs Laverock added that the cost of policing continued to rise above the rate of inflation over the years, including increasing operational costs and pension payments.