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Panel supports council tax increase to protect local policing

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Sussex residents will pay an average of £12 extra for police services after the county’s Police and Crime Panel supported budget proposals. The Panel met on Friday 19th to discuss a 7.8 per cent increase in the Police’s share of council tax, proposed by Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne.

A working group, established to act as a critical friend during the development of the force’s budget, met with the commissioner to discuss pressures and possible proposals twice last year and their findings were presented to the Panel.

But at today’s meeting, members spoke of their frustration at having spent time at previous meetings discussing a range of budget options, but not the £12 proposed as a result of central Government subsequently authorising higher increases in precepts.

Commissioner Katy Bourne said she shared the working group’s frustration at the late announcement of Government funding. “I recognise that any increase is going to be challenging for some of our residents,” she told the Panel. “This is not a decision I take lightly. I do this to protect 476 staff and officer posts, sustain local policing and make sure the Chief Constable puts resources in areas the public say matter to them.”

Driving the decision to increase the charge, the Commissioner told the Panel, was the rising demand on the police service and the increasingly complicated nature of criminal investigations.

Mrs Bourne said the public wanted to see investment in visible, local policing and improvements to the public’s contact with police, and were prepared to support the force through increased precept contributions. She said the increase, along with the use of £17million of reserves, will reduce the funding gap from £26.5million to around £2million to £3million by 2022.

There was criticism from the Panel that officer numbers had been “cut back to the bone” and the Commissioner was asked to ensure any increase to the precept was spent on front line policing. A motion to veto the precept was lost with only seven of 18 members present voting in favour of forcing the Commissioner to propose a smaller increase. The Panel agreed, by a majority, to support the Commissioner’s proposed precept.

The Panel also asked the Commissioner to review partnerships to ensure that Sussex Police were fully benefiting from the sharing of services. After the meeting, Panel chairman Cllr Bill Bentley said: “The Panel was thorough in its challenge of the Commissioner’s proposals given the burden a 7.8 per cent increase would put on residents. But we recognise that without the additional income residents would see a significant reduction in frontline officers over the next four years – something the public, along with members of the Panel, have been quite clear in opposing.”

Also at today’s meeting, the Panel congratulated PC Ginny Jupp, an anti-social behaviour officer based in Eastbourne, who was awarded a Queen’s Police Medal in the New Year’s Honours for her service.

The next meeting of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel will be held on Friday, April 27, 2018.