To review the Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposed Precept for 2023/23.
The Commissioner outlined the consultation that he had undertaken before developing his proposals for the 2022/23 Police Precept. He highlighted the key elements of his proposals, which amongst a range of other things included an increase in the number of Police Officers and Police staff across Cheshire, improvements to the 101 system and road safety improvements.
Miss Yasmin Somani
Asked the Commissioner how the Constabulary were working smarter, by for example making use of such things as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. The Commissioner noted that one of the key responsibilities of a Commissioner was to scrutinise the Chief Constable, as part of that process he regularly sought information on how the Police were adopting new methods of working and improving efficiency. Miss Somani indicated that the Panel would appreciate seeing some detailed examples of such initiatives. The Commissioner suggested that this should be discussed at the next informal meeting with the Panel. Miss Somani also noted that Panel members would appreciate seeing a future timetable of Scrutiny meetings, as this would help support Panel member attendance at such meetings.
Cllr Kenneth Critchley
Noting the proposed investment to improve 101 response times, asked the Commissioner what his target was for answering such calls. The Commissioner indicated that no target had been set, but that he wanted the public to be satisfied with the service, noting that if people were unhappy, they phoned 999. Such calls were answered by the same team of staff. Cllr Critchley suggested that the Commissioner should set a firm measurable target for the answering of 101 calls.
Making reference to the review of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), that the Commissioner was undertaking, asked for clarification on the proposals. The Commissioner indicated that he remained committed to the 122 community model introduced by his predecessor, where each Community had a PC and a PCSO. However, the Chief Constable was of the view that he wanted more Police Officers, the review would see, through natural wastage, a reduction in the overall number of PCSOs and an increase in the Police establishment. Cllr Critchley noted that PCSO’s were highly visible and that he supported their retention.
Sought clarification on the Commissioner’s Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP) policy. The question was answered by Ms Clare Hodgson, the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer. She indicated that the MRP policy was part of the overall Treasury Management Strategy, details of which would be found on the Commissioner’s website.
Cllr Martyn Delaney
Sought clarification over the likely reduction, as a percentage, in the numbers of PCSOs that could result from the Commissioner’s current review. The Commissioner indicated that the reduction would be in the region of 40, but that his Finance Office would provide additional information following the meeting. The Commissioner noted that the review was currently ongoing.
Cllr Lynn Riley
Sought clarification over how the increase in the Police precept would benefit partnership working, noting that overall outputs were more important that raw numbers. She noted that collaborative working was becoming ever more important and that she was concerned that organisations appeared to be retreating to concentrate on their own specialisms and as a consequence were working in silos. The Commissioner stressed the importance of working together across organisations. Using the example of road safety, he indicated that he hoped that working alongside local authorities, the increased use of technology such as ANPR cameras, could free up Officers and staff for other tasks.
Welcoming the increase in the numbers of Officers and staff that was proposed, asked what the impact would be on cybercrime and online fraud. The Commissioner recognised the scale and impact of cybercrime and noted the very significant contribution made by Police staff in combating such crime.
Asked for information on the Commissioner’s approach to victim support and victim prevention. The Commissioner indicated his commitment to improving victim support and to reducing the number of victims, especially in areas such as cybercrime. Mr Evan Morris, noted that in his experience PCSOs were extremely committed to crime prevention and played an important role in this area.
Sought clarification as to how the Panel could be made aware of the developments over the coming year. The Commissioner noted that the Chief Constable had complete operational independence and that his role was to hold the Chief Constable to account. However, he agreed that all public sector organisations did need to work together.
Cllr Laura Jeuda
Sought clarification on the disproportionate rise in the amount of theft across Cheshire, asking if this included such things as “door to door” scams, which could particularly impact the elderly. The Commissioner indicated that such crime would in all likelihood be included in overall theft figures, but that he would provide further information to Cllr Jeuda following the meeting.
Making refence to the Commissioner’s recent consultation exercise, noted that many of those who had responded, had in her view, thought that the number of PCSOs would increase, and would be annoyed to learn that this may not be the case. The Commissioner indicated that he was not sure how people could have reached such a conclusion, but wanted the Panel and the public to be reassured that if his proposed Precept was agreed there would be an enhanced Police presence across Cheshire
Cllr Paul Findlow
Noting his support for the role of PCSOs, sought clarification as to what proportion of the proposed increase in Police Officers was due to the Government’s uplift policy and what would be a consequence of the proposed increase in the Police Precept. The Commissioner’s Head of Finance explained that Government funding of £2m in 2022/23 would fund 120 additional Police Officers. However, this money would not be added to the base budget, meaning that the increased costs would have to be found by the Cheshire Council Taxpayer in future years.
Raised concern at people’s ability to pay the proposed increase in Council Tax, noting the increase in the cost of living being faced by families across Cheshire. Whilst he supported the Commissioner’s overall objectives, he did wonder if increases should be phased over a period of time. The Commissioner noted that the proposed increase of 4.4 percent was below the current rate of inflation. He was of the view that if the Precept was not increased, services would have to be cut. He did, however, recognise the challenge faced by many across Cheshire in relation to the increased cost of living.
Cllr Norman Plumpton Walsh
Expressed a desire to see more Police Officers on foot patrol. The Commissioner recognised this desire, noting that this was an operational policing issue decided by the Chief Constable.
Cllr Jane Whalen
Indicated that she had found the Panel’s recent visit to Police HQ to be helpful but had not appreciated the “marketing” tactics employed by those speaking. The Commissioner indicated that this had not been the intention, but that he had been keen for Panel members to understand fully the implications of his proposed Precept not being approved.
That the Panel support the Commissioners proposed Precept for 2022/23, with a number of recommendations being made.
A copy of the letter sent to the Commissioner by the Panel’s Chair is attached to these minutes.