To review the Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposed precept for 2021/22.
The Chair welcomed the Commissioner to the meeting.
The Commissioner outlined the background to his proposed precept, thanking those Panel members who had been able to attend the detailed informal briefing the held the week before. The Commissioner briefed Panel members on the consultative process he had followed, the outcome of the consultation had fed into the setting of his proposed precept. Taken overall, public support for policing in Cheshire remained very high.
The Chair thanked the Commissioner for the informal briefing meeting held the previous week and for the detailed additional information that he had provided following that meeting. He also congratulated the Commissioner for undertaking a consultation exercise under very difficult circumstances.
The Commissioner outlined his priorities for the coming financial year.
Members of the Police and Crime Panel questioned the Commissioner on a range of issues related to his proposed Precept.
Councillor Rob Bissett:
Noting the very regressive nature of Council Tax, asked if the Commissioner knew the socio-economic breakdown of those who had responded to his consultative exercise. The Commissioner recognised the limitations of any consultative exercise, especially one conducted at the present time, but noted the steps taken to reach out to those who were traditionally difficult to engage with.
Councillor Martyn Delaney:
Sought clarification over the numbers responding to the Commissioner’s consultation exercise when compared to previous years. The Commissioner noted a good response from elected representatives at all levels to his consultation. Taken overall 2,282 people had responded, very slightly fewer than in 2020, although the number of online responses had increased. The Commissioner noted that he had missed the personal contact with people, but that had been a necessary consequence of lockdown.
Mr Bob Fousert:
Sought clarification on the way in which the Constabulary managed debt, referring to the published performance indicator. The Commissioner responded by stressing the importance of recovering all income that was due to the Constabulary, noting that this was an issue which was regularly followed up by him at scrutiny meetings with the Chief Constable.
Noting that a mortgage guarantee scheme was being introduced, sought clarification of the likely ongoing cost. The Commissioner indicated this was a health and wellbeing measure, that should operate at no revenue cost to the Constabulary. The aim of the scheme was to assist Officers and staff get on the “mortgage ladder”. It was also anticipated that it should assist with Officer and staff retention.
Making reference to the McCloud judgement which related to public sector pensions, he sought clarification over the likely cost to the Constabulary and the estimates that were detailed in the Commissioner’s supporting papers. The Chair, at the Commissioner’s suggestion, asked Wendy Bebbington, the Constabulary’s Head of Finance to respond. She outlined how the estimated figure had been arrived at.
Sought clarification on the expected capital borrowing required by the Constabulary and the impact of any longer term increase in interest rates. The Commissioner explained that the overall levels of Government funding had reduced, meaning that levels of borrowing had increased, but he stressed that borrowing had always been a feature of Police budgets. During his term as Commissioner his aim had always been to introduce a degree of stability to the Police budget. He noted that at present, interest rates were extremely low.
Councillor Peter Walker:
Recognising the imminence of elections, sought the Commissioner’s and Constabulary’s support for the ongoing role of PCSOs. The Commissioner indicated that the importance of local policing had been confirmed by the recent consultative exercise. He stressed that his proposed budget included funding for 200, Police and Crime Commissioner funded PCSOs.
Councillor Lynn Riley:
Challenged the Commissioner on the effectiveness of his consultation exercise, noting that overall response rates had only been approximately 0.2 percent of the Cheshire population. She noted that the Commissioner had spent £192,000 writing to all households in Cheshire. She also sought clarification on the operational cost of the Commissioner’s local policing model.
The Commissioner outlined that the budget consultation exercise was not a referendum, but that he was proud of the overall effectiveness of the exercise run by his Office, noting that response levels had been higher than those experienced by Cheshire Councils. He clarified that the letter sent to households had not been part of the budget consultation exercise and had been funded from money recovered from criminals. Referring specifically to his local policing model, he stressed that this had not been funded at the expense of operational, front line emergency response.
Councillor Dave Thompson:
Supported the Commissioner’s proposed precept, stressing that it needed to be viewed in the context of over ten year’s reduction in overall levels of funding.
Councillor Paul Findlow:
Suggested to the Commissioner that the proposed precept was too high and that many people, especially those on fixed incomes could not afford the proposed increases. He noted that referenda on increases in Council Tax always resulted in the rejection of the proposed increase. In response the Commissioner highlighted the very large cuts in central funding that the Police had experienced over recent years. He noted that the 7 percent increase that he was proposing had been built into Government assumptions on funding for 2021/22. The Commissioner reminded the Panel that financial savings had been delivered in each of the years he had been Commissioner.
Councillor Laura Jeuda:
Highlighted that many of her constituents had welcomed the communication from the Commissioner informing them about local policing arrangements. She noted that the nature of crime was changing and that whilst increases in Council Tax were unfortunate, residents did appreciate the services that were delivered by the Constabulary.
Councillor Martyn Delaney:
Sought reassurances from the Commissioner that he would continue to attempt to replace the number of Police Officers that had been cut over the previous ten years. The Commissioner indicated that his priority would always be to protect policing and the public. His budgets had always been about sustainability. He was looking for sustainable growth and sustainable community safety.
That the Panel support the Commissioner’s proposed Precept for 2021/22 without qualification or comment.
Eleven Panel members (Councillors Bissett, Davidson, Delaney, Jeuda, Plumpton Walsh, Thompson, Walker, Warren, Mr Fousert, Mrs Hardwick and Mr Morris) voted in favour. Two Panel members (Councillors Findlow and Riley) voted against.