Police council tax precept rise proves controversial

Photo of Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro (file photo)
Surrey Police & Crime Commisioner David Munro (PCC office file photo)
By Julie Armstrong, Local Democracy Reporter, 11 Feb 2021

The county council leader has criticised the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for raising the policing element of the council tax by 5.5%, or £15.

Opposition to the increase came from 51% of survey respondents as well as a majority of the police and crime panel, which is there to review the commissioner’s proposed precept.

But despite the dissent, the PCC pushed ahead with the hike – prompting a rival PCC candidate to claim a “crisis of legitimacy”.

David Munro, whose job includes achieving efficiency in the police force and setting its budget, blamed Conservative government cuts ‘leaving council taxpayers to take up the slack’ and said the extra cash will “up the force’s ability to solve more crimes”.

The county council on the other hand is limiting its adult social care precept rise to 0.5% rather than the 3% permitted by government, and has asked the PCC to review his decision.

“It is a concern that the Independent PCC’s suggested £15 increase is likely to place even greater financial pressure on our residents at an already challenging time,” said Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver.

“We’ve got to drive our organisations to be as efficient and effective as possible, and there are choices as an authority as to where we use the public money.

“You’d have to ask residents whether they think they’re getting better value for money, whether they’re seeing more visible police officers on the streets.”

Mr Munro said: “I am convinced that giving Surrey Police the sustainable funding it requires to keep the county safe was the right one.

“I find it rather hypocritical that Tim Oliver is calling on me to review my decision to add an extra £15 a year to the police precept when the council he leads is proposing to add more than twice that, at £37.

“The truth is that both the county and the police run vital services that have to be paid for.”

He said the £15 extra for the average Band D taxpayer would pay for 10 more police officers and 67 frontline staff, including PCSOs and analysts.

However in a public consultation in January in which nearly 4,500 people gave their views on the proposal, 51% said they were against it.

PCC panel member Christine Elmer, an Elmbridge borough councillor, said: “We’re living in very hard times. I’ve got many residents in my borough who are losing their jobs, they’re having great severe financial difficulties.”

Mr Munro responded: “I genuinely feel sorry for either those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, or those on very low incomes because they’ve been furloughed and so on.

“It’s 30 pence a week. I’m not saying it’s trivial, but I don’t think it will break the camel’s back.”

Seven members present voted against Mr Munro’s proposal and only three for, but two thirds of the panel’s 14 members would be required to stop it going ahead.

The Liberal Democrat candidate standing in this May’s PCC elections, Paul Kennedy, said: “The decision to press ahead with another large increase, when so many people are suffering financially, is unprecedented and outrageous.

“It creates a further crisis of legitimacy for the Conservatives’ deeply flawed PCC model.

“We have a former Conservative PCC, at the end of the fifth year of his term, ignoring the concerns of the public and the panel, and obeying the orders of Priti Patel and the Conservative Government – imposing an inflation-busting increase on Surrey council taxpayers, who already pay the highest share of police funding in the country.”

Surrey Police received the lowest government funding per head of population this year. Only 41 per cent of the coming year’s funds will come from the centre, with the rest falling on the local council taxpayer.

Cllr Kennedy, a Mole Valley district councillor, said: “I fully support and welcome the extra investment in extra officers, victim support, and in rural crime and road safety, which my colleagues and I have been calling for.”

But he added that after five years of above inflation council tax rises, Surrey ought to be getting this already.

Mr Munro responded: “Surrey Police’s training wing has been bursting at the seams for the last two years with a flood of high-grade recruits. They’re not all out there yet because it takes time to recruit and train them.”

He said government grants had reduced by 30 per cent in real terms in the last decade, meaning once inflation is taken into account, there had been no increase in funding since 2010.

Yet the number of total notifiable offences in the county had gone from 50,000 in 2010, to 70,000, with their complexity also increasing he said.