Avon & Somerset’s police and crime commissioner has written a barbed letter to the councillors who torpedoed her plans to recruit 70 officers.
Sue Mountstevens says she is worried about morale in the force after the cross-party police and crime panel vetoed an average £15 annual rise in council tax to pay for the extra workforce.
Chief constable Andy Marsh wanted the extra cash, equal to a 6.6 per cent increase in the police precept, for more officers to tackle the “tsunami” of sexual offences following “savage” cuts during austerity, as well as better management of offenders and more proactive policing.
But the panel decided on Thursday 4th February the force could not justify the hike while residents faced “heartbreaking” financial pressures from the pandemic and local authorities were making savings.
Members will now meet again on Friday 19th February with a new proposal from the PCC for a rise of £13.39 – 5.88 per cent – for a band D household from April.
However, Ms Mountstevens, who is responsible for delivering an effective and efficient police force and holding chief constable Andy Marsh to account, said in a letter to panel chairman Richard Brown this meant having to use £1million from reserves to make up for the shortfall.
She said this would hinder the incoming PCC from financing any promises in their manifesto ahead of the local elections in May, at which Ms Mountstevens is standing down, and jeopardise future policing levels.
In the letter she said: “The panel should be aware that I am concerned for the negative impact on police officer morale at what has been a very difficult time for them and I am worried about the impact and message that the panel’s veto sends to our senior police leaders and to our hardworking frontline officers and staff.”
The PCC said she, her senior team and Mr Marsh were “disappointed” the panel had rejected their “compelling case” for a £15 increase in the police’s share of the council tax, which would take it to £240 for an average band D property.
She said 29 other panels had agreed similar rises and that Avon & Somerset received the lowest funding of the forces with the nine largest cities in England and Wales outside London, £21million below the national average.
Ms Mountstevens said every council in the area, plus Avon Fire Authority, was increasing precepts by the maximum permitted by the Government.
“Not supporting the maximum possible precept for policing at the same time as supporting the maximum for other services demonstrates an inconsistency which only serves to exacerbate the underfunded position of Avon and Somerset Police,” the PCC wrote.
“Whilst valuing the democratic check and balance provided by the panel, I remain convinced that my reasoning was sound.
“I was also aware that there were no independent members present when the vote was taken.
“Nevertheless, I recognise that it is incumbent upon me within the democratic process to acknowledge and have due regard for your concerns.
“I have therefore sought to mitigate my proposal whilst making the maximum effort to avoid excessive impact on critical programmes which remain key priorities both nationally and in our communities.
“Whilst it is not viable to reduce the precept to £10 as you propose (4.4 per cent, as opposed to the five per cent you mention) without seriously compromising the constabulary’s ability to meet the uplift programme, I have acknowledged your views on the £1million allocated for the incoming PCC’s initiatives and allocated this money to offset the 2021/22 budget.
“This enables me to reduce the precept ask by the equivalent sum, giving an increase of £13.39 for Band D.
“I fully recognise that this is effectively using reserves to subsidise one year, and does not address the increased funding gap created in subsequent years.
“In following your request, albeit in part, I recognise that I am somewhat constraining the flexibility of a future PCC through the removal of specific funding to underwrite their manifesto and priorities, as well as setting them the challenge of addressing increased deficits from 2022/23.
“The necessary savings plans (above the £7.3million already identified) may impact officer or staffing numbers going forwards and protecting frontline delivery will come under increased pressure.”
At the first meeting, Bath & North East Somerset Cllr Andy Wait said: “In my council we have massive cuts because of Covid.
“I can’t see any reason why the police should be given a greater rise than everyone else.
“They have been treated very generously over the last three years. I’m not convinced there aren’t savings to be made.”
Avon and Somerset Police gets 60 per cent of its funding from government and 40 per cent from council tax.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter