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Police commissioner 'left with no option' but to request tax rise

Hampshire's Police Commissioner said 'dangerous' budget cuts are making for 'very, very difficult' times for policing across the county

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Hayes is considering asking residents for more council tax in what he believes is a bid to stop the government risking public safety and "offering the upper hand to criminals".

Mr Hayes wants to raise the policing precept by 3% to partially offset cuts in government funding for 2014/15.

It will mean asking the average Band D household to pay an extra £4.54 a year, or 9p a week, raising the total police bill to £155.79 per year.

If approved, the increase will generate £2.9 million a year towards making savings required in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Additional cuts to those announced in 2010 mean the constabulary will receive £41m less in the coming financial year compared to four years ago.

Mr Hayes said further cuts of around £25m are expected for 2015-17.

“These are very, very difficult times for policing in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight,” warned Mr Hayes. “It would be wrong of me not to tell the public the truth about the impact of government cuts.

“Our police service has been praised by government as a well-performing and well-run service, yet ministers are again cutting the money for policing in our communities, this time by £25m, which equates to approximately 555 police officers.

“It is getting more difficult to keep up the level of neighbourhood policing people want and, quite frankly, should expect.”

'Risking public safety'

Mr Hayes warned there will come a time when reduced policing in communities will reach dangerous levels.

He added: “We are not there yet, but my message to the Home Secretary, MPs and the Prime Minister is you are risking public safety and offering the upper hand to criminals if you continue with your policy of undermining the good policing that is going on across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

“I believe that we must maintain a safe level of neighbourhood policing, including PCSOs on our streets, and this is why I am left with no option but to propose a precept increase.

“But I want to hear the public’s view on this.”

Mr Hayes wants residents to complete a short online survey before January 22. The views can be considered by the Police and Crime Panel, which will debate the proposal two days later.

Meanwhile council tax is expected to be frozen by Hampshire County Council for the fifth year running, but "difficult decisions" will need to be taken on the way services are delivered.

Proposals on how the council will reduce its budget while managing an increase in demand for its services and freezing council tax will be published this month. Final recommendations are made by leader Roy Perry and the cabinet on February 7 and a decision is due on February 20.

Part of the process of configuring the 2014/15 budget has been taking into account the need to make up £93m of savings by 2015/16 – equivalent to 12% of the budget, or £68 per resident.

'Difficult decisions'

The council's grant from the government has been cut by more than 40% since 2010/11 and a tighter squeeze is expected beyond 2015/16.

The council budget has, however, been calculated with the assumption that council tax for an average house will remain at £1,037.88.

Cllr Perry said the council had taken early and decisive action to respond to the cuts. Savings of £130m have already been made and the council has reduced its workforce by around 1,700.

"While it is inevitable that some services will need to reduce, we will be looking for investments that will deliver similar or better service levels with less money and unlock further efficiencies," said Cllr Perry. "The fact remains that with less money and fewer staff we can’t afford to deliver them in the same way."

The council launched a survey last November asking residents to rank the services they valued most to help it identify potential areas to reduce funding.

Cllr Perry added: "We have some very difficult decisions to consider and will take into account what the public have told us."

Around £75m of the council's shortfall has already been identified through progress on a number of workstreams that include reducing external spend, joint working with health, joining up support functions with police and fire, increasing income and reducing office space by about a third.

Rushmoor Borough Council has said it will also freeze its share of council tax if the county council does so while Hart District Council has indicated that it may do the same.

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