Peter Aldous calls for review of police funding

7th February 2018

Peter Aldous calls for an urgent review to address the unsustainable and disproportionately high level of police funding that is derived from the local council tax precept. He also calls for legislation to address the cost of policing of roads around large events following the recent court case between Suffolk Police and Ipswich Town Football Club.

Setting police budgets for 2018-19 has been a real challenge both for the Government and for local forces such as Suffolk constabulary. I recognise the significant amount of background work that my right hon. Friend the Minister carried out ahead of presenting his provisional proposals before Christmas. He visited and spoke to every police force in England and Wales so that he could obtain a better understanding of the demands that they face and how those can be best managed. I am grateful to him for the time that he spent with Suffolk colleagues, the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, and me so that we could provide him with a full insight into the challenges faced by Suffolk police.

I understand that the Government, in arriving at their funding proposals, have identified national challenges to which it is important to give some priority, including complex and hidden crimes such as child exploitation and slavery, and the terrorism threat. It is right that additional funding has been allocated to address those national issues. That said, both the history and the future of good policing is local and community-based. It is important that the Government recognise the significant pressures that preparing a budget has presented to the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk.

Suffolk constabulary is the force with the highest caseload per officer in the country, at 150 per year, yet it receives one of the lowest funding settlements. A disproportionately high percentage of the county’s funding is received through the council tax precept. At 42.6%, its figure is one of the highest in the country, and that compares with the national average for England of 32%.

While Suffolk constabulary is a well-run and efficient force, it has to contend with a significant number of modern-day pressures. To meet them, the police and crime commissioner is increasing the precept by 6.8%. The budget of the office of the commissioner, out of which important support services such as domestic violence support have been funded, has been reduced from £1.3 million to £936,000.

Suffolk is an efficient force that has produced a higher proportion of savings compared with its overall budget than any other constabulary in England and Wales. A collaboration with Norfolk is generating internal savings of £26 million a year. Eight buildings are now being shared with the fire service, and five more such arrangements are proposed. The PCC is starting work to refinance the private finance initiative contract that he inherited, which was agreed before 2010 at an original interest rate of a punitive 13%.

Suffolk constabulary is under significant pressure. It faces a significant increase in demand: emergency incidents are up 14%; domestic abuse is up 40% against a three-year average; serious sexual offences are up 50% on the same basis; cyber-crime is up, with 943 online crimes reported last year; and the number of missing people is up 12%. Against that backdrop, there is an urgent need to review the police funding formula. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to do so, but I urge him to come up with a timetable for starting the review as soon as practicable.

The current system, in which a disproportionately high level of funding is derived from the council tax precept, is unsustainable. Suffolk has to contend with a wide variety of modern pressures, including the county lines drugs and organised crime challenge, and a significant increase in its elderly population. Some 13,000 Suffolk citizens have been diagnosed with dementia, and that figure is predicted to rise by a further 40% by 2025. That places additional demands on police officers.

Police budgeting is a very difficult science, as events that can never be predicted will take place. One of those is the tragic case of Airman Corrie McKeague, who disappeared after a night out in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill). Quite rightly, Suffolk constabulary has carried out an extensive search for Corrie, but very sadly it has not yet shed any light on his disappearance. The search has cost £2.15 million so far. An application has been made to the Home Office for the repayment of those costs, and I urge the Minister to process that application and to reimburse Suffolk constabulary as soon as practically possible.

A further unforeseen cost that Suffolk constabulary might have to bear arises out of its court case with Ipswich Town Football Club regarding the policing of roads around the ground on match days. Madam Deputy Speaker, I should declare that I am a lifetime supporter of Ipswich Town and a season ticket holder. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Suffolk police could not appeal the case and that it should cover the costs of such policing. That could well result in significant back payments to the football club for the period between 2008 to 2013. Personally, I do not agree with the decision, and I believe that it was wrong of the football club to pursue the case. On match days, the two roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that surround the stadium are closed to traffic, and in my opinion they then become part of the stadium. I question whether it is morally right for the public and the taxpayer ultimately to pay for the policing of sporting and leisure events, which can generate significant revenues for the clubs or organisations involved. We are all aware of the enormous salaries paid to footballers, particularly those in the Premier League.

Last month, additional tickets were sold to away supporters for the match against Leeds United, for which Ipswich Town no doubt received additional revenue. There were some incidents, and an additional police presence was required close to the junction of Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. It is wrong that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. The Court’s decision could have ramifications for police forces across the country, and I urge the Home Office to introduce legislation to address the problem as quickly as possible.

Producing police budgets for 2018-19 has been a major challenge for both the Government and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner. I recognise the pressures that the Government are under, but the system is very nearly at breaking point. Suffolk is traditionally a well-run rural force, but it is now having to deal with a wide variety of 21st century metropolitan challenges on an increasingly stretched budget. The unique nature of Suffolk, with the challenge of county lines and the demographics of an ageing population, means that policing in the county is under increased pressure. It is no longer reasonable for such a high percentage of the policing budget to come from Suffolk council tax payers. The situation needs to change as soon as possible, so I urge the Government to instigate the funding review without further delay and as quickly as possible.

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Surgeries

Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Beccles, Saturday 14th April
Lowestoft, Thursday 31st May

 

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