Police force amalgamations will mean higher council tax bills or cuts in policing
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has warned that the Government’s planned creation of regional police forces will be paid for through higher council tax bills in West Sussex or cuts in policing.
As Shadow Minister for Police Reform, Mr Herbert has been leading opposition to the amalgamations, which would see Sussex police being merged with Surrey and Kent, or with Surrey and Hampshire.
Mr Herbert was speaking after a meeting at Westminster on Wednesday (8 February) with Sussex Chief Constable Ken Jones, Deputy Joe Edwards and Police Authority Chairman Cllr Peter Jones and other Sussex MPs.
Police authorities estimate that the set up costs of amalgamations in the South East would be up to £86.5 million. The Government has said that it will provide less than a quarter of the funding necessary, so local taxpayers will foot most of the bill. This would add £23 to council tax bills on a Band D property in West Sussex, on top of existing rises.
Notes for Editors
1. Commenting on Sussex Police's grant settlement for the next two financial years (2006-07 and 2007-08), the Police Authority said:
"Sussex police authority's deeply disappointing ... grant settlement, finalised last month, means that hard choices are required if the level of council tax is to be within the average 5 per cent capping limits that have now been set by Ministers. Given the current funding, it will be increasingly difficult to set low council tax increases without impacting on front-line services" (Briefing, 3 February 2006).
2. That view was echoed by the Deputy Chief Constable of Sussex, Joe Edwards:
"We have already planned to deliver some £6.8 million of efficiency savings in 2006-07 and 2007-08, but the final settlement will require further savings of £1.9 million in order to constrain the necessary precept increase below 5 per cent" (Letter to Sussex MPs, 2 February 2006).
The Government's funding for the Sussex Police and West Sussex County Council is already causing local concern. West Sussex has been given the worst funding settlement of any local authority for next year.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday (6 February), Mr Herbert quoted Sussex Police Authority's view that funding levels already meant that ‘it will be increasingly difficult to set low council tax increases without impacting on front-line services.'
He said that amalgamations would exacerbate the situation: "On the one hand, the Government are landing police authorities with a huge bill for a restructuring that most of them do not want, but for which the Government refuses to pay; on the other, they are threatening capping if police authorities try to finance the costs themselves. Police authorities cannot win except by cutting services."
In another Commons debate last week, Mr Herbert urged the Home Secretary to consider the cheaper and less disruptive option of police forces sharing services, which has been suggested by Sussex's Chief Constable and Police Authority.
He said: "The proposed police force amalgamations will leave local taxpayers with a £400 million bill. Vast regional forces will take chief constables hundreds of miles from the local people whom they are meant to serve. Regional forces will weaken the link between police and their communities, and strengthen the Government's grip on the police. This is exactly the wrong way to strengthen the fight against crime".