OPINION: Why I'm launching a consultation over a proposed precept rise

Police on patrol in Norwich city centre.

Police on patrol in Norwich city centre. Police and Crime Commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie says although the public want more visible policing, so much of what the constabulary does is done away from public view - Credit: Danielle Booden

The public wants to see more visible policing. The public also wants more to be done to keep women and girls safe.

Meanwhile, the police must continue to do everything else they do to keep us safe: tackling drugs, agricultural theft, residential burglaries, anti-social behaviour, and so on.

Norfolk Constabulary is responding positively to these public expectations. More uniformed officers are being deployed visibly into our communities. Those officers are targeting known problem areas through initiatives such as the StreetSafe app and the chief constable’s Park, Walk & Talk scheme.

My inbox tells me that people are noticing the constabulary’s new approach and that this having a welcome effect.

However, it’s not all about visible policing as a lot of police work takes place out of public view. For example, a quarter of all reported crime in Norfolk is domestic abuse, mostly perpetrated behind closed doors by men and boys against women and girls.

The constabulary’s resources are finite, so they must often prioritise such higher-harm crimes over more routine visibility patrols. In other words, Norfolk Constabulary needs more resources if they are to satisfy the expectations of Norfolk’s public.

Norfolk PCC Giles Orpen-Smellie

Norfolk PCC Giles Orpen-Smellie - Credit: Submitted

Policing comes with a price tag. The budget this year was £187M, of which 55% came from a government grant, and the remaining 45% from Norfolk’s households through the police precept of council tax. The government has announced that Norfolk Constabulary’s budget for 2022-23 should increase by 5.2% or £9M to £196M.

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At face value this is good news. However, the government has also stated that police budgets must absorb cost pressures such as inflation, the likely and much deserved police pay rise, and other costs arising from implementation of new government legislation. Despite the welcome funding increase, these cost pressures will squeeze the budget.

The government’s budget increase also assumes an increase of the police precept. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced in his Comprehensive Spending Review that PCCs would be permitted to increase precepts by up to £10 per year over the next three years.

In the coming financial year, 2022-23, a 3.59% increase of Norfolk’s current police precept would equate to a £9.99 a year, or 19p per week increase for a Band D property or £7.77 a year / 15p per week for a Band B property.

One of the reasons that PCCs are elected is that we have responsibility in law for deciding the level of the police precept - that old mantra of “no taxation without representation”. Therefore, as Norfolk’s elected representative, and despite the government’s assumption, I am launching a public consultation asking for Norfolk’s views about this proposed precept increase.

My team and I have studied the question carefully and there seem to be three options.

First, the precept could be frozen at 2021-22 levels. The immediate result would be that the £9M budget increase announced by the government would be reduced to £5M. The cost pressures would still have to be absorbed, and the consequent budget squeeze would result in reduced, not increased, police visibility. This is not what Norfolk says it wants!

Second, a precept increase of, say, 2%. This would be an unhappy compromise as the precept would rise while visible policing would still reduce because of prioritisation of police resources.

Third, the £10 increase proposed by the chancellor.

The cost pressures could be absorbed and visible policing could continue to increase. Importantly, the constabulary could also improve their capabilities for tackling violence against women and girls significantly by recruiting 21 additional officers and staff.

My recommendation is therefore that Norfolk should support a 3.59% precept increase.

I’m keen to hear Norfolk’s views before I take my decision.

More information about my recommendation and the reasons behind it are available from the PCC’s website at www.norfolk-pcc.gov.uk. I would then like to invite Norfolk’s public to either support or oppose the proposed increase by completing a short survey that is available online via my website or on paper from my office.

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