Alison Hernandez has plans approved
The Police and Crime Panel in Plymouth today gave the go-ahead to a budget that provides extra investment that would allow the Chief Constable to take on an additional 85 officers.
They chose not to exercise their veto on Alison Hernandez’s proposals that would see council tax rise for £24 a year for the average Band D council tax payer.
The extra cash would enable a renewed recruitment drive that would bring force strength to 3,100 by the end of 2020, the highest level since 2012 and 186 officers higher than when she became Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.
The 12.75 per cent rise in council tax will generate an additional £14.3m of income, and a letter from the Chief Constable said that the increase of £24 is a necessary investment in policing and without it, the gap between the resources available and the demand on the service will widen further.
But Ms Hernandez told councillors that she will not be sitting in the same chair next year bringing such large tax hikes before them as the continued increase are unfair on tax payers.
She said: “Policing comes at a cost. Put simply, we need a rise of about £17 a year to stand still, or £24 to invest. The difference will be around 30-40p a week, which is less than a pint of milk or a second class stamp, and from Axminster to Penzance, people tell me that they want more policing.
“Everyone I meet says they need more police and I want you to listen to those people who want this, and this £24 annual increase in the precept means we can recruit more officers.
“We will accept the cost to ours pocket this year, but I will not be sitting before you in this chair next year and bringing forward such a large hike.”
She added: “How can we keep burdening some of the poorest people who can least afford this with more costs? There are more efficiencies that we can be driving to give the best service that we can.
“The panel may feel I am being unrealistic about my statement but it would be more cavalier to say I would put up the council tax to the maximum amount regardless. Band D payers are already paying £39 a year more from when I became the commissioner so adding another £12 or £24 next year would start to become a real increase.”
A poll of more than 4,546 people indicated there was support for the additional investment if it was invested in front-line officers. The percentage of those supportive of the measure, 54 per cent, was significantly lower than the percentage of those who supported a similar proposal last year of 71 per cent, but the panel heard that only Band E tax payers were not supportive of the rise.
The Chief Constable has indicated that the uplift would allow him to create an additional beat officer for each of the 27 sectors in the force area, increase detectives by 30 to address serious offending and increase the number of officers in frontline response teams.
The proposed rise in the precept would raise an additional £14.3m for Devon and Cornwall Police, with much of that increase going towards funding a deficit in the police pension fund and rising operational costs.
Police officer numbers will rise from 2,990 to 3,100 by 2021/22, but the number of PCSOs are cut to be cut from the current 196 to 150.
The panel supported the proposed council tax rise for 2019/20, with Cllr Robert Excell saying: “You have listened to the community and found out what people want.”
Cllr Tom Wright added: “I support the desire to increase the precept, but would point out that since 2017/18, with today’s proposals, the increase on tax payers is 20 per cent. We should expect to see a significant improvement in the service with a 20 per cent increase.”
Cllr Philip Hackett said that he supported the increase as it is entirely necessary, but as long as the people in the rural areas see the results.
The budget would enable an increase officer numbers to 3,100 over the next two years, provide an additional connectivity neighbourhood police officer in each of the 27 sectors, increase detectives by 30 to address most serious offending, increase front line response teams and invest in modernised training and improving mental health and supporting good mental wellbeing in the workforce.
Ms Hernandez added: “We are fortunate to live in one of the safest parts of the country and I want to keep it that way. It’s clear to me and the communities I speak to that part of the solution to that is recruiting more officers.
“Devon and Cornwall Police are dealing with an increase in recorded crime of 10 per cent and calls for assistance from police officers is rising.
“In addition there are a range of new threats from which we are not immune. Excellent work takes place every day of the week in counter terrorism – for example, there are currently 39 cases in in Devon and Cornwall where a potential threat has been identified and is being mitigated.
“With the increase in investment last year we were able to speed up force recruitment, introduce Body Worn Video and invest in innovative Blue Light officers who are now working across Devon and Cornwall.
“I am recommending a further investment in our force but do not do that lightly, it’s clear to me that this year people from some of our communities are less supportive of this approach than they were a year ago and I am listening to those concerns.”
Councillors though told her to wary of statement that she would not be asking for a large hike in council tax next year, with Cllr Phillip Sanders saying: “Politicians learn that you should never say never. How can you justify saying you won’t come back with a rise next year?”
The Panel also agreed that they should write to the Government to demand a fairer funding for policing in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.