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Why I am raising council tax by £10 a year

Many of you will have heard me speak time and time again about how Government funding for Dorset Police is woefully inadequate.

This has been the case for years, and austerity has had a damaging effect on the Force, leading to the loss of hundreds of officers and staff members among other issues.

For that reason, the Government’s funding settlement, which usually happens in early December, has become something the Chief Constable and I await nervously.

However, this year’s settlement, announced at the end of January because of the strange timing of the recent General Election, is the first time in eight years I can feel positive about the settlement.

The announcement was incredibly welcome news and I congratulate the Government on the investment they have made in UK policing.

The 2020/21 settlement means the Force will be able to deliver a balanced budget as well as recruit an extra 50 officers.

Although many of the specifics of what is contained within the funding settlement remain unclear and require clarification, there is cause for optimism.

An important part of setting Dorset Police’s budget every year includes my responsibility to set the part of your council tax bill that goes towards the Force, known as the precept.

Despite the good news this year, the Government’s pledge of increasing funding to UK police forces by £915m to £13.1b did include the assumption that every Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in the country raise the precept by £10 per year, based on an average Band D property.

I go out every year and ask for Dorset residents’ views on raising the precept – not only because there’s a legal duty for PCCs to consult, but also because it’s important to me that I get your views.

Rather than wait until the settlement arrived and rush through an incredibly important consultation with weeks to spare, I took the decision to go out to the Dorset public just before Christmas and ask what you thought.

At the time, we thought a figure of £15 per year, or £1.25 a month, was more likely – and the vast majority of Dorset residents actually said they would be willing to pay that higher figure.

This year’s precept consultation resulted in 5,152 responses, either online or at a series of face-to-face events. This is the largest number who have ever responded to one of my consultations and I would like to thank everyone who took part.

More than 87% of you agreed that Dorset Police required additional funding and nearly three quarters of you, just over 74%, said you would be willing to pay an extra £1.25 a month.

So, with evidence of overwhelming public support for an increase, I have asked the Dorset Police and Crime Panel for permission to raise the precept by £10 a month – the maximum amount that the government will allow – and the panel unanimously voted in favour.

And, as I set my last ever budget as PCC, I leave knowing that an additional 50 officers will be helping keep Dorset residents safe later this year. Although this will not halt the huge decline in officer numbers we have seen over the last decade, it is certainly a good start and is something that can only be welcomed.

But although we have had good news this year, I still want to see reform of the police funding system and will use my remaining months in office to fight for a better and fairer system.

The current formula massively disadvantages the South West region, as well as smaller forces like our own, which continue to punch above their weight in the face of constantly rising demand.

Police forces also need more consistency and security, rather than the current hand-to-mouth system, and so I want to see multi-year settlements that would enable Chief Constables to plan ahead properly.

The 50 officers who are about to start in Dorset represent year one of a three year recruitment cycle – this is the number that has been allocated to the Force from 20,000 promised nationally by the Government.

One question that needs answering urgently is: “What will happen in years two and three of this cycle?” If I had been able to raise the precept by £15 a year – as had been expected and as Dorset residents said they would support – this additional £5 per household would have gone into a pot to fund officer recruitment in 2021/22.

With forces across the country expected to plan for the recruitment of a huge number of additional officers over the next three years, they urgently need to know what the years ahead will look like, and how much money they will have to do this.

Finally, having read the comments many of you made to my consultation, I know many of you believe that funding for policing should come from central Government, not from taxpayers.

I couldn’t agree more, and it continues to be a source of great frustration and disappointment to me that Government funding pledges always come with strings – namely, that some of the cost has to be stumped up by hard working local people.

Nevertheless, we are in a much better place than we have been for several years, and your increase in council tax will make a difference. I would like to thank you all for once again supporting me at a time when many of you are struggling financially, and for continuing to support the officers and staff of Dorset Police.

Martyn Underhill

Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner

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