‘We need every single penny’ - freeze in Norfolk police share of council tax vetoed after plea by chief constable

Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett in the control room at Wymondham HQ. Photo: Bill Smith

Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett in the control room at Wymondham HQ. Photo: Bill Smith

A proposed freeze in the share of council tax to pay for policing in Norfolk has been vetoed, after the chief constable and the county's police and crime commissioner disagreed over the move.

Police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett today proposed a freeze on the precept to pay for policing. He had consulted on a freeze or a 1.98pc increase.

Mr Bett planned to use £15m of the force's reserves to clear the force's debts, which would save £1.5m a year because debt repayments would cease.

The independent commissioner, who is running for re-election in May, said the government's autumn statement pledge to protect police budgets had given him an opportunity to freeze the police element of the tax.

He said: 'I believe my record shows my heart and soul is with policing, but the government has given me an opportunity to ease the burden on the people of Norfolk and that's what I intend to do.

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'I will no doubt be accused of playing politics, but it is the right thing to do.'

But Norfolk's police and crime panel, made up of councillors and independent members, used its power to veto his proposal, after hearing an impassioned plea from chief constable Simon Bailey.

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Mr Bailey said: 'I find myself in a really difficult position. I have thought long and hard about how to approach this.

'I have carefully considered the implications and the potential negative media coverage which may follow, but I need to remain true and speak against the commissioner's proposed freeze.

'It's the first time we have publicly disagreed and it is not something I do lightly. I have argued for months that the precept should increase by the maximum amount.

'I have a dedicated group of officers looking at what policing will look like in five years' time and the evidence of their review is that we need every single penny to meet public expectation.'

Mr Bailey said the number of police officers had been reduced by 127 between 2010 and 2015 - down to 1,522.

But he said the force faced changing demand, with rises in domestic violence, cybercrime and serious sexual offences, including against children.

There are fewer burglaries, robberies and thefts, but Mr Bailey said the crimes which are on the increase were more complex to investigate and took more police resources.

Mr Bailey said: 'At the same time I still have to balance a budget. I still have significant savings to find on top of the £25m we have already found.

'That's why, from my perspective, every single penny is so important.

'We are doing our best to protect the frontline, but at some point that had got to give and that is why we need a budget which meets the demands.'

The government, last autumn, said police funding would be protected - on the assumption commissioners increase the policing element of council tax by two per cent each year.

South Norfolk councillor Christopher Kemp accused Mr Bett, who has previously increased council tax, of shamefacedly 'stockpiling reserves'

so in the year of an election, he could propose a freeze.

Mr Bett denied that and said, if the government had not 'pulled a rabbit out of a hat' and promised to protect police budgets, he would have proposed an increase.

The panel will now reconvene on February 16 when Mr Bett will respond to their request for a rethink.

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