Ministers face Norfolk police ultimatum

Ministers will be given an ultimatum next week by Norfolk police chiefs - honour your funding promises or let us levy an extraordinary council tax hike.

Ministers will be given an ultimatum next week by Norfolk police chiefs: honour your funding promises or let us levy an extraordinary council tax hike.

Police authority chairman Stephen Bett and chief constable Ian McPherson will meet police minister Tony McNulty on Tuesday to warn that the county has no option but to raise council tax bills by 7pc after the government cut funding for police community support officers (PCSOs) by £1m. The rise would be above the level set by the government and could incur massive financial penalties.

Police chiefs believe householders will back their bid to achieve the numbers of PCSOs needed to bring their strength up to the 280 the Home Office originally promised for new safer neighbourhood teams.

Funding is available for 189 PCSOs in the east and central sectors and, where pilot teams have been rolled out, they have quickly become effective crime fighters. But the Home Office has since withdrawn the funding needed to recruit 91 PCSOs for the west.

A 7pc rise in the county's tax levy would cost Band D householders £3.12 a year more.

But ministers have banned councils and police authorities from setting increases above 5pc and can force them to recalculate and rebill taxpayers if they do.

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Police authority chief executive Chris Harding said rebilling would cost £500,000 in administration, further cutting the amount of cash to spend.

He said: "We acknowledge that what we're asking for will not be pleasant for taxpayers but we also know that all residents want us to address the issue of antisocial behaviour.

"We've had tremendous feedback to the teams already in place in areas like Yarmouth, where we're seeing reductions of antisocial behaviour of about 40pc, and communities re-engaging with their youth.

"Without the additional 91 PCSOs, it would significantly deplete the potential significance of the teams we have trialled. What we do now is a serious dilemma, but we don't feel it appropriate to back away from that commitment to staffing levels."

The official position will be decided at a public consultation meeting at the force's Wymondham headquarters tonight. Mr Harding said previous debates indicated the vote would be unanimously in favour of the 7pc rise.

He was briefing South Norfolk Council's scrutiny committee, which had invited the police authority to talk about the roll-out of the safer neighbourhood teams.

Committee chair Christopher Kemp said: "The government has raised expectations with the PCSOs and now dashed them. But this is a major risk for the police authority to take, relying on the belief that communities will be prepared to pay for more than their fair share of the cost."

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