Paying for policing

This is the time of year when I have to work hard with South Yorkshire Police to set their budget for the next financial year, beginning on April 1st.

The funding I receive comes from two main sources: government grants (77%) and the precept (23%), which is collected as part of the council tax. It gets spent mainly on the police service (around £240m), though I also have to fund some other services, such as those that help the victims of crime.

As far as government grants go, Police and Crime Commissioners were told just before Christmas what they could expect. The government said that we would have the same level of funding for the coming year as this year provided that we set the precept at the maximum level permitted.

For South Yorkshire this would amount to an additional £5 per annum for a Band D property – just over 3%. Many households will pay less because they are in lower Bands.

Although this is a decision for each Police and Crime Commissioner to make, after consultation, the implication of the announcement was clear: if you don’t put the precept up, you cannot expect any additional help during the year. In the case of South Yorkshire, this could be quite serious since we have had to ask for Special Grant help several times in recent years – for such items as the cost of the Hillsborough inquests.

Even so, this only brings the same amount of cash for the coming year as this year. It makes no allowance for inflation – such as the extra costs of salaries, fuel, uniforms, and so on.

So, if the money stays the same, but the costs of running the police service are going up, savings have to be found if the budget is to balance.

In recent years savings have sometimes come from redundancies. This is not a road we want to go down again and I will be working hard with the Chief Constable to ensure this does not happen. But it does mean that every department has to think about how it can be more efficient.

So over the next few weeks I have to find out as far as I can what the public of South Yorkshire feel about paying a little more – around 10p per week – towards policing. I shall be doing that in a number of different ways – from opinion polling to meeting people in various community organisations.

Perhaps I can ask the public of South Yorkshire to tell me what they think as well.