Case Studies

Paying more; what for?

by Mark Rowe

While local government has taken issue with the amount that policing is paid for out of council tax, rather than from central government, no matter what pot the money comes from, generally police budgets are going up.

In Dorset, the level of precept paid by the county’s taxpayers has risen by 6.2 per cent. Inflationary and other pressures are affecting the budgets of Dorset Police and other forces, says the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Martyn Underhill, who’s stepping down at the PCC elections in May, put off from last year. He says that the pandemic has had a huge impact on the police and other agencies, changing the way officers have had to do things, putting them at the front line against covid-19 by giving them responsibility for enforcing new and ever-changing regulations.

He says: “Even as we continue to vaccinate huge numbers of our population, coronavirus will be with us for a long time. We don’t know exactly what its legacy will be, but I believe it will affect policing in three ways.

“First, there is the potential of renewed austerity, hardship caused by furlough, and the risk of a double dip recession – economic problems which historically lead to issues such as increased anti social behaviour and acquisitive crime, which will have to be planned for. Secondly, we may see that when society is finally lifted from the lockdown restrictions, there will be a huge increase in reporting crimes that have been taking place behind closed doors.

“Finally, there may be a huge impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, potentially meaning increases in addiction and suicide. Despite the huge leaps made in mental health provision in this county, this will have a serious impact on policing.”

In Cleveland, there’s an inflation-level increase of 1.99pc. Acting PCC Lisa Oldroyd says: “It felt most appropriate in the current economic circumstances that the increase is limited to £5 for a Band D property, as households across Cleveland feel the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis. With a 1.99pc increase, we will be able to support Cleveland Police to surpass Government recruitment targets and continue on their journey of improvement under the leadership of Chief Constable Richard Lewis.”

In Manchester, policing is overseen by the elected mayor, Andy Burnham. The police element of the Greater Manchester council tax is rising by £10 per year per Band D household, as agreed by the city’s Police, Crime and Fire Panel. Councillor Nigel Murphy, the panel chair, says the panel was disappointed that instead of fairly funding the police directly, the Government continues to expect an increase to residents’ council tax bills, this time by £15 per Band D household. He says: “We acknowledge that last year’s increase in precept delivered continued investment in neighbourhood policing including a named and contactable Neighbourhood Beat Officer and Police Community Support Officer for each ward in Greater Manchester.

“In addition, GMP is introducing a full-time school liaison officer in schools across Greater Manchester that request it and that are in the greatest need. Investment has been made in an online crime reporting system alongside improvements to the telephone system that has seen an improvements in the 101 service.

“We welcome the continued support given to Community Safety Partnerships and voluntary sector organisations, providing them with additional resources to tackle issues on a local basis, including anti-social behaviour, support for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and work on reducing offending and re-offending. It is also important to state that we recognise the hard work and commitment of frontline police officers and GMP staff who work in challenging and complex conditions.”

In London, police oversight is not by a PCC but the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. On police finance he says: ““I’m doing everything I can from City Hall to reduce violence, but it’s clear we still have huge financial challenges ahead because the Government has implemented a new era of austerity on public services in London. Ministers must now match my commitment to tackling this issue and fully refund City Hall and the Met for all the lost income and money spent tackling the pandemic.”

He complains that the Government continues to refuse to fully refund the Metropolitan Police (pictured; Deptford police station, south east London) for the costs incurred in supporting the capital during the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, some £21m of Covid costs remain unfunded in this financial year.

As for what crime is actually going on, the Met Police dashboard on the website shows that recorded bicycle theft has risen sharply, by 18 per cent to more than 23,000 cycles, while most recorded theft including shoplifting has gone down. The sharpest rising metric, reflecting the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 so far, are in anti-social behaviour calls to police; up 81 per cent, to 493,594; or roughly one for every 20 Londoners.

Speaking to London Assembly members in January, deputy Met Police Commissioner Sir Stephen House described child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse online as ‘an exploding area of crime for us’. He said that ‘between 250,000 and 350,000 people in the UK using the dark web for child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation’. While the Met has deployed more officers to such crime, he added that it begs the question that ‘if this keeps increasing, can we keep providing more and more officers to it. The answer is eventually we will run out officers to do this.’

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