By JOSEPH WATTS
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Home secretary Theresa May last night claimed elected commissioners could set police precepts as high as they liked, only to then admit ministers had already capped the amount they could ask for.
Under plans introduced by the government, voters will next month elect police and crime commissioners (PCCs) with powers over how forces around the country are run.
In her speech to the Conservative conference yesterday Ms May said each PCC would be able to decide how much the public contributed to their force’s budget through a power to set the police precept, collected through council tax.
She told delegates: “The commissioners will lead the fight against crime in their communities, and they will have significant powers. They will be responsible for setting police budgets and deciding how much the public pays for policing through council tax.”
But speaking to the Eastern Daily Press afterwards, she was forced to accept that the PCCs would not have complete freedom because the government had capped at two per cent the amount council tax could rise without authorities facing a public referendum.
She said: “There is of course the cap that is going in more widely in relation to council tax and obviously the police precept comes into that. We think it’s right that we’ve announced the freezing for council tax because life is difficult for a lot of people.
“But it will be possible, if somebody wants to take a precept above the maximum threshold that has been set, for them to take it to a referendum and that will be for them to decide what they are doing.
“PCCs will have to accept that they will have to be operating inside the funding environment from government that’s been set, with this caveat in relation to the precept.”
It was trailed yesterday that each PCC would also be able draw up a “menu” offering crime victims a chance to decide punishments given to offenders, repairing damage or doing unpaid work in the community, for example.
But Ms May also admitted it would be some time before the power came in, as it would require legislation to be passed through Parliament first.
Meanwhile, she appeared to accept predictions that turnout in the elections may be very low, with the Electoral Reform Society estimating it could sink to 18.5pc.
She said: “Getting people to understand about the first elections and getting people to recognise that elections are taking place is always a challenge.
“Whatever the mandate that is received by the PCC they will have a democratic mandate that the police authorities do not,” she added.