In Suffolk, the county council and the police commissioner are both raising local taxes to fund better services. The government is trumpeting a national increase in officer numbers. But what the commissioner describes as a “lousy” government funding settlement means that the citizens of Suffolk are finding it hard to see the better policing they are paying for.
Council tax is going up
Earlier this year Suffolk County Council set out a budget that would raise council tax by 4.9%, the highest increase possible within the law. This would be made up of a 2.9% increase in general funding with an additional 2% increase specifically focused on funding for adult social care.
At the same time the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, wants to increase the Police element of the Council Tax by 4.9%. This is in addition to an increase in officer numbers in recent years through the national uplift programme. Passmore’s public consultation ends on Thursday 25 January.
Police funding is going down
However, despite the injection of funding through the national uplift programme, and new recruits, Suffolk Police are still facing cuts of £5.2m due to lower than expected funding levels from government.
Presenting his consultation, Passmore said, “The Constabulary has undertaken an extensive savings and budget setting exercise aimed at delivering the right levels of service in the right areas, and this will continue to ensure we are providing the best possible value to the Suffolk taxpayer.
“Regretfully, I feel I have no option but to propose increasing the precept by 4.9% to enable us to maintain a standard of service that the public expect.”
It is expected that the saving will take the form of freezing staff vacancies where appropriate, improvements in procurement and a better use of technology. It remains unclear which non-operational jobs may be affected.
Police numbers: up or down?
Passmore told the Ipswich Star: “Funding for extra officers through the national uplift programme has been ring-fenced so there will be no net reduction in officer numbers.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC: “We are giving the police the resources they need to tackle crime, and through our police recruitment campaign we have more police officers in England and Wales than ever before. Suffolk Police’s funding will be up to £171.1m in 2024/25, an increase of up to £10.8m when compared to 2023/24.”
As we move through this election year, statistics and soundbites will be bandied about, and political parties will step up the rhetoric.
In reality, however, these budget proposals boil down to this: the council tax payers in Suffolk are about to pay a lot more for what may be, at most, exactly the same number of police officers on the streets.