A 5.5% increase in the South Wales Police precept has been agreed with concerns raised about the burden being placed on local council taxpayers.
The South Wales Police and Crime Panel voted in favour of the proposed increase by nine votes to three at its meeting on February 3.
The proposals will see an increase of £1.25 a month in the police precept for Band D properties, an 83p increase for Band A and a 97p increase for Band B.
The base precept income will be worth £135.9m and base funding for next year stands at £320.4m with £327.9m needed to balance the books, so there is a £7.5m budget gap which would have been closer to £12m without the pay freeze from UK Government, according to the force’s finance officer.
The report that went before the panel highlights that a majority of council taxpayers in most of the force’s local authority areas will pay much less than this, such as 87% of households in Merthyr Tydfil which will pay less than this.
It also said that 68% of the residents in the South Wales Police area are below Band D and the majority would pay between 19 pence and 26 pence extra per week, excluding receipt of any council tax discounts or benefits.
It added that South Wales Police will continue to have below-average cost for policing in Wales in terms of Band D property and is mid-table in terms of percentage of precept to budget, across England and Wales.
The report also said that the Home Office has given “flexibility” to police and crime commissioners in England to increase the precept by £15 for a Band D property, without the need for a local referendum.
The total police precept on council tax in 2021/2022 for South Wales Police will be worth £144.2m
During the budget presentation, Umar Hussain, the force’s director of finance, said they had received a cash flat core grant from UK Government of £161m
He said the police uplift programme for additional officers and staff of £22.7m was also funded and it won’t have a negative impact on the current year’s precept.
On the apprenticeship levy and training, Mr Hussain said they are still waiting to hear about how the costs of this will be funded but they’ve assumed they will receive around £1m in reimbursement.
He also mentioned that there are unavoidable pay and price cost pressures and unavoidable technology renewals and capital funding with the capital grant having been reduced by 90% with it being around £3.1m pre austerity but it will now be around £300,000.
Mr Hussain mentioned the £58m of cuts that South Wales Police had made since 2010 and he said despite Covid and the challenges they’ve had this year they are forecasting a break even position at this stage.
The cuts that make up that £58m made since 2010 have included reducing the number of contact centres from seven to one, reducing the number of custody units from 16 to four, reducing the number of basic command units from eight to three, created a leaner back office, cut the number of staff by more than 1000, reduced its estate by 33% and reduced its fleet by 20%.
He also highlighted that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the auditor general and head of internal audit have given the force positive judgements in terms of value for money.
South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael said:
“I don’t think that it’s right to be shifting the burden of policing from central taxation, the income tax funds that go to the central government, on to local council tax.
He later added:
“I would have preferred the police grant to increase to reflect the increase in costs that we face rather than for us to have to meet some of those costs out of the police precept from our local authorities.
“There is a shift that has happened over the last few years between a burden on central taxpayers and a burden on local taxpayers. I don’t agree with that.”
Councillor Sherelle Jago of Merthyr Tydfil voted against the proposals because a significant number of the population are on reduced wages because of furlough and added there is a high risk of redundancies when furlough ends.
“I don’t think we are in a position where we can share the financial burden with members of the public this year because so many families are struggling so very much due to Covid.”
In voting for the proposals, Councillor Bernie Bowen-Thomson of Cardiff said she supported the increase although it is a difficult decision to make given the current economic climate but said they need to maintain the officers.
Councillor Ben Gray of the Vale of Glamorgan also supported it and said: “Like many, I’m disappointed that central government grants remain flat and that this measure is necessary.”
He said it’s “unacceptable” that the central government is telling local council taxpayers that this is how they are going to fund the police service.
Councillor Richard Young of Bridgend who chairs the panel said he is going to reluctantly vote for the recommendation.
“We are seeing a change from the central government in attitude towards police financing.
“Last year we saw the abdication of their responsibilities as far as I was concerned in moving the tax burden on to the council population but I think this year we’ve seen a move to central control where police forces are being told that the recommendation from central government is going to be £15 on a Band D council tax but you can have lower if you wish.
“Now I’m afraid under those circumstances I find that the commissioner’s hands are tied.”
He also mentioned how Cardiff had yet again not received the extra capital city funding.