To review the Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposed precept for 2019/20.
The Chairman welcomed the Commissioner to the meeting.
The Commissioner outlined the background to the setting of his proposed precept, noting that in his view a decade of national austerity had had a profound impact on public services, including policing. He wished to put on record his gratitude to all Police Officers and civilian staff members at Cheshire Constabulary for the work that they undertook.
The Commissioner outlined that the recent announcement by Government on Police funding had been predicated on Commissioners across the country increasing precepts by the maximum amount possible. He was of the view that the true effect of the announcement was a decrease in funding available to the Police nationally.
Starting in January 2019 the Commissioner had undertaken a public consultation exercise. Responses had been positive, with two thirds of those responding supporting the proposed increase in the precept. However, the Commissioner recognised that many people would have difficulties in affording higher levels of Council Tax.
Mrs Sally Hardwick asked the Commissioner for clarification over whether the cost of the former Chief Constable’s disciplinary hearing was being recovered in the proposed budget for 2019/20. The Commissioner responded, saying that the costs of the disciplinary process had been published and that savings he had delivered in his office costs had more than covered the costs of the disciplinary process. He indicated that disciplinary processes were common to all Police areas and the costs were met from Police budgets.
Mr Bob Fousert asked the Commissioner how he would maximise income from proceeds of crime legislation. The Commissioner indicated that it was important that money was recovered from criminals, sending a clear message that crime did not pay. He had sought, on a number of occasions, the assurance from the Acting Chief Constable that in all relevant cases recovery of money was considered. He noted that his draft budget included stable funding for the Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit.
Councillor Andrew Dawson sought clarification over the overall budget available to the Police, noting that income came from a number of sources. He indicated that in the period 2016 – 2020 the Police budget would have increased by over 11 percent, inflation over the same period would have been 8 percent. The Commissioner challenged these figures, noting that when the increased pension liability was included, Police inflation was greater than 8 percent.
Councillor Dawson welcomed the proposed increase in Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers (PCSO); but noted that these increases simply restored cuts imposed by the Commissioner in earlier years. The Commissioner noted that the staffing levels under his proposed precept would be the highest since 2011.
Councillor Dawson sought clarification over capital receipts and the disposal of redundant property assets. The Commissioner clarified that capital receipts were normally reinvested and noted that he was overseeing an ongoing estates review, which in a number of cases was seeing accommodation being shared with the Fire and Rescue Service.
Mr Evan Morris questioned the consultation process that had been undertaken with the public over the proposed budget. The Commissioner outlined the process that had been followed, but recognised that overall responses levels had been relatively low. He asked Panel members for any advice they may have on the process which could be applied in future years. He noted that one option was to hold a referendum on a proposed increase in the precept, but was concerned that in Cheshire this would cost in excess of £1m.
Mr Morris informed the Panel that the Fire and Rescue Service were only proposing a precept increase of approximately 3 percent; significantly lower than that being proposed by the Commissioner. The Commissioner noted that the Government had set a 3 percent cap on the increase in Fire and Rescue Services precepts.
Clarification was sought by the Chairman, Mr Robert Fousert over opportunities for income generation. The Commissioner indicated that the Police Service only had limited powers to generate income and that a recent national court ruling relating to charging third parties for policing outdoor events had reduced opportunities for income generation.
Councillor Robert Bisset indicated his support for the proposed precept, highlighting the level of cuts imposed on the Police Service over recent years by national Government. Councillor Dave Thompson noted the frustrations of both the previous and current Commissioner with national Government over Police funding. By way of example he highlighted the impact that the closure of courts on Police workload and productivity.
Councillor Norman Plumpton Walsh highlighted the pressure put on the Police by the need to respond to those suffering from mental illness. Councillor Jan Davison noted the impact of homelessness on the work of the Police service in Cheshire.
The Chairman thanked Clare Hodgson, the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer for producing a well written and accessible budget report.
That the Panel support the precept without qualification or comment.