PCC Blog 191

This is the time of year when the Chief Finance Officers, the Chief Constable and I heave a collective sigh of relief: we have a budget and precept for next year.

You may be interested in the process, which is long.

We begin shortly after the end of the summer holidays. I ask the Chief Constable to prepare an assessment of what the force needs for effective policing in the coming year, starting on 1 April. This involves a lot of work, thinking, for instance, about the way the force is organised – what is known as the operating model – whether new developments will require new funding and whether savings can be made.

We consider the results of the public consultation I hold each year, when I ask the public to prioritise the things they want to see the police focusing on and the things they think are less of a priority if money is tight. This year we had 3,886 respondents – our highest response to date – from all four districts: Sheffield 37%, Doncaster 23%, Rotherham 22%, Barnsley 18%.

This time people wanted the following prioritised:

  • dealing with neighbourhood crime (ASB, burglary, car theft and robbery)
  • visible patrolling and engaging with communities
  • tackling drugs
  • tackling child sexual exploitation
  • reducing violence

But, interestingly, people did not think that opening more police stations would be money well spent – something that would, in any case, be very expensive to do.

I then determine what level of financial support might be needed from the reserves and council tax. Choices always have to be made because with finite resources it is not possible to fund everything.

When we have a balanced budget – where the estimated income is sufficient to fund the estimated expenditure – I then take the proposals to the leaders of the four district councils and the county’s mayor for their comments. They were all supportive. After that I report to the Police and Crime Panel – district councillors from all the parties and independent members – who must give their approval: they did this unanimously. Finally, yesterday, at a meeting of the Public Accountability Board, I asked the Chief Finance Officer to present the report so that I could formally accept the budget and set the precept. You will soon see that decision on your council tax bill.

As a result of these decisions, this is what you will pay extra each week in council tax for policing in the coming year depending on the council tax band your property is in:

A 17p

B 19p

C 22p

D 25p

E 31p

F 36p

G 42p

H 50p

More than half of our properties in South Yorkshire are in Band A (56.9%).

Inevitably there are always uncertainties in the budget. We have to make the best estimate we can about such things as: the cost of energy – heating and lighting police buildings; the cost of fuel; the demands of overtime – if there is a big event or series of demonstrations that require policing. This is why, as the year goes on, I have also required a monthly report monitoring spending so we can make adjustments if necessary to keep to budget. But it can never be an exact science.

A piece of cake

Staying with the matter of police finances, I sit on a national body with Home Office officials and advisers, two Chief Constables from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and another, Conservative, Police and Crime Commissioner.

For some time now we have been looking at something called the Funding Formula (FF). The FF determines how much of the total government grant for policing should go to each police force. It distributes the money on the basis of a number of factors – such as the size of the population and the degree of poverty in an area. The FF doesn’t affect the size of the cake, but only how it should be divided.

There is a feeling among many Chiefs and PCCs that the present formula is ‘unfair’ and needs to change. They argue that they have pressures on them that other forces do not have and should, therefore, receive more – by adding new elements to the formula. The trouble is, everyone says the formula isn’t working, but they cannot agree on what should happen next. Hence the body I sit on.

The two main pressures that have been highlighted are: seasonal and rural factors. Seasonal factors, for example, would benefit those police forces that operate in coastal areas where at certain times of the year there are big influxes of visitors – which puts additional pressure on policing at those times. Rural factors would benefit those force areas which are geographically large but with smaller populations – such as North Yorkshire which extends from Skipton to Scarborough. The argument here is that police vehicles have to travel much bigger distances to get to crime scenes or to take those arrested to custody suites. Some force areas, like South Yorkshire are a mix of urban and rural.

If the formula were to be changed it would not affect the coming financial year but future settlements. And unless there is more money available – unless the cake is made bigger – it will create winners and losers. Some will receive a bigger slice of the cake at the expense of others who will have a corresponding reduction. At the moment, no one knows what the outcome of any changes along these lines might produce and since almost everyone thinks that the present formula is unfair to them, they tend to think they will be a winner! (Be careful what you wish for.)

It will not be resolved in my time as PCC. But in any case, I think if the funding of police forces is to be looked at again, something far more radical is needed. The problem, as I see it, is not the FF but the way in which funding comes through a mix of grant and council tax (the precept). This is where the real unfairness resides. You can see what I mean by looking at the two tables below. They illustrate very starkly how a PCC in an area like South Yorkshire, where property values are relatively low, struggles to raise funding through the council tax as compared to those areas where there are many more high value properties.

These are the % of properties in the various council tax bands in South Yorkshire – with the lower valued properties in the lower bands:

A 56.9

B 17.4

C 12.3

D 7.2

E 3.7

F 1.6

G 0.8

H 0.1

Now compare that with Surrey:

A 2.2

B 5.6

C 18.3

D 26.7

E 18.5

F 12.5

G 13.4

H 2.8

In other words, almost 90% of properties in South Yorkshire are in Bands A-C, the bottom 3 bands, whereas in Surrey, almost three quarters of properties are in the higher Bands D-H.

Each year the Home Secretary tells PCCs by how much the precept can be raised: this year it was a maximum of £13 on a Band D property. Clearly, a precept of this amount raises very different sums in South Yorkshire and Surrey. And it illustrates why it is unfair for the government to shift the burden of paying for police services increasingly onto council tax payers: it penalises areas like ours where property values are so much lower and people’s ability to pay so much more constrained. This is the real unfairness and until it is addressed, changing the FF is really neither here nor there.

Stay safe