Precept – busting some myths
Happy New Year to everyone and let’s hope it is a great one for us all.
I would just quickly like to say a heartfelt thank you to all the police officers and staff who worked over the Christmas and the New Year period.
Whilst many of us were enjoying the festive season, they were there doing what they do every day of the year – protecting us and fighting crime.
So, I think it wholly appropriate, and I know many of you will join with me in thanking them for all they do.
In my blog this week, I want to try and address some of the comments that I have seen on social media and some of the mis-held beliefs that a small number of people have about precept funding and Dorset Police. The top three questions so far have been -
- You just want the money to build a new headquarters – don’t you?
- Why don’t we see more police officers on our streets?
- Why are you asking me for money – the Government should pay for policing.
You just want the money to build a new headquarters – don’t you?
There is a proposal for a new headquarters building at Winfrith, however, the new building will not be funded by precept. There are other options available to us because it is a capital expenditure and ultimately by taking these steps, we will increase efficiency and value for money overall.
Put plainly, it’s time for the whole of the Dorset police estate to be brought up to scratch.
The joint ‘Estates Futures’ programme, of which the new headquarters building is only a part, will deliver a range of benefits to communities over several years, and ensure that police teams are located in the right places and have access to the necessary equipment and technology to maximise their time out in communities.
Both myself and the Chief Constable have committed to enabling more officers to be out in communities, more of the time, and this programme together with the development of the two local policing areas will deliver this. Part of the programme will be a full estates review that works with local communities to identify opportunities to increase face-to-face engagement through front counters, which may be flexibly located in more populated areas not necessarily within police stations.
A range of improvements will be made in local police stations such as better technology, more lockers and flexible working spaces to help optimise the time in stations each shift, plus respite areas to help officers deal with traumatic incidents.
Many of the current police buildings are in use far beyond their planned lifespan and, in particular, the 60-year-old headquarters building at Winfrith currently costs more to maintain than it would do to knock down and replace with a more energy efficient and sustainable building.
Other buildings that are no longer cost effective will be sold, and the proceeds used to modernise and invest in new facilities, including jointly with emergency services and council partners, where possible. Any such changes, however, will be designed to increase police visibility and connectivity with local communities.
Modernisation and investment in the Dorset estate must happen, due to the shockingly poor condition of some of the current buildings and the ongoing maintenance costs caused by years of austerity. ‘Make do and mend’ is no longer a viable option.
It is therefore vital to modernise our police estate by providing new buildings which will be fit for modern policing. It’s well known that sub-standard buildings and equipment can lead to wasted time and inefficiency, and by offering up-to-date technology and facilities the Force will improve communication to residents both in person and online, allowing them more time to engage directly and ensure all victims and communities are supported and have a voice.
The public have repeatedly told me that they want to feel more connected to their police and that visibility is something that they wish to improve. These improvements, along with the ongoing recruitment of extra officers and better mobile technology will enable Dorset Police to better meet those expectations.
Why don’t we see more police officers on our streets?
I am delighted to say that Dorset now has the highest number of officers it has had, for the past 10 years that will continue to increase as the uplift recruitment continues.
I am also please that nearly half of all the successful applications were from women. I am also incredibly encouraged to see that applications from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are growing as it is vital that policing truly reflects the people it serves.
One of the six main priorities of my Police and Crime Plan is to make policing more visible and connected. I have made a commitment to ensure that these new officers will be used to maximise community policing, multi-agency working, and frontline deployment and I am dedicated to ensuring that these officers will be at the forefront of improving police visibility to the community and in the community.
There is an agreement in principle that the new officers go direct into the Neighbourhood Policing Teams – exactly where they are needed.
Improving connectivity to the community will also happen through making improvements to the Neighbourhood Engagement Commitment initiative, which sets out how communities can communicate as effectively as possible with their local officers.
There is a lot of work happening to make police officers and staff more visible and more connected and I am determined to make sure that through better connectivity with the community, residents feel safer and better protected by Dorset police.
Some residents have told me they are already seeing a difference, but this is a work in progress and I will be driving for consistency for all our communities as the extra resources come on board.
Why are you asking me for money – the Government should pay for policing.
Under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) must set the force budget and determine the precept.
It is then my job to make sure Dorset Police has the necessary resources to meet increased demand and ensure offenders are apprehended.
Dorset is the second least funded from the national government grant. We are 40 out of 41 forces. That means a more significant proportion of the police funding needs to come from the precept.
The majority of government grant increase received in 2022/23 is expected to be focussed on delivery of the government’s manifesto pledge to deliver 20,000 officers nationally.
However, that funding will not cover "unavoidable" cost increases such as inflationary pressures, which are particularly high at the moment, and the costs that enable the recruitment of those new officers, such as training, equipment, vehicles etc etc.
My job is to ensure every penny counts for Dorset and also to continue to lobby for a fairer funding system, so over the past few months I have been talking to local MPs and they have been talking to government, and I have been talking to government and making it clear that the national funding formula needs to change.
The system is currently under review, but that review will take some time and until then we have the situation where we are the second worst funded force in the country from the point of view of national funding.
It is not just about business as usual however as I had a clear mandate to address the priorities that the people of Dorset asked for. I am determined to do that whether it be strengthening neighbourhood policing to more effectively cut crime and anti-social behaviour, fighting drugs and violence on our streets and in our homes, fighting rural crime or increasing the visibility and connectivity of Dorset police with the communities they serve. These can and will be delivered but I need your help to do it.
David Sidwick, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner