Ministers drop police tax cap threat

The future of community policing in Norfolk was secured yesterday after ministers decided not to impose strict financial constraints on the county's force.

The future of community policing in Norfolk was secured yesterday after ministers decided not to impose strict financial constraints on the county's force.

Norfolk Police Authority had faced the possibility of restrictions being placed on its budget after it set a council tax increase at 7pc - above the government's approved level of 5pc. This was the fourth-highest increase in the country.

Had the government introduced 'capping' - a mechanism to limit local government spending - it would have meant Norfolk was unable to recruit the remaining 91 police community support officers to reach its full complement of 280 needed to introduce neighbourhood teams in every community.

Local government minister Phil Woolas said the capping powers would not be used in the coming year. However, he warned ministers would have “no hesitation” in using them to control excessive council tax rises in future.

Police authority chairman Stephen Bett had earlier warned the government it would “have a fight on its hands” if capping was used. The authority had originally intended to limit its increase to within the limit but was forced to raise this after the Home Office withdrew £1m originally pledged to fund neighbourhood policing.

Mr Woolas said the average council tax increase in England for 2007-08 was 4.2 pc. “We had made it clear to authorities that we expected to see an average council tax increase of less than 5pc and I am pleased that overall local government has responded in a positive manner in keeping down the average council tax increase,” he added.

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“We have therefore decided not to exercise our reserve capping powers in 2007-08. However, keeping council tax under control remains a priority for the government.

“We will have no hesitation in using our capping powers in future, if circumstances require it.”

Mr Bett said: “I am very pleased with this news and would have been very surprised if the outcome had been any different because the government's own actions were the cause of us going above the capping level in the first place.”

Chris Harding, chief executive of the police authority, said Mr Woolas' statement vindicated the actions of the authority. He added that the council tax increase - which equates to an extra £3 a year for a band D home - has met with little public opposition. Just 12 complaints have been received.