North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has criticised a delay in the setting of the vital policing budget for the coming year.
The North Wales Police and Crime Panel today (Monday) voted to defer debate of Mr Jones’s recommended increase of 3.79 per cent in the police precept which will put an extra £2.25 million into frontline policing and 17 more police officers.
That is despite the fact it is the lowest increase of the four forces in Wales and that a survey of the public backed an even bigger increase.
Instead the Panel, meeting in Conwy, voted unanimously in favour of a proposal from the chair, Conwy’s Conservative County Councillor Julie Fallon, that they defer debate of the precept until Tuesday, January 31, because they hadn’t seen a copy of Mr Jones’s Police and Crime Plan.
This is likely to delay the setting of the precept by at least a week.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector himself who was elected as Commissioner as a Plaid Cymru candidate last May, said: “It is disappointing and frustrating that such an important and necessary step is being delayed.
“The Chairman of the Panel only informed us of this 90 minutes before the meeting so there was no intention to compromise.
“Today’s meeting was run in a dictatorial fashion by the chair who didn’t allow any input from us at all, it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog
“My proposed increase would have meant that the cost of keeping the people of North Wales safe would have risen by just 76p a month – less than the cost of a loaf of bread.
“It would have paid for 17 more officers and an extra six additional staff.”
Mr Jones said that his proposed increase of 3.79 per cent in the police precept was probably the lowest in Wales and had been backed by the public in an online survey which showed that 63 per cent of almost 1,000 council taxpayers questioned were in favour of an increase of five per cent or more.
Under the terms of Mr Jones’s proposal the average householder in a Band D property would pay just £9.09 extra a year, a total of £249.21 for the annual police precept, up from £240.12.
This comes in the wake of a cut of more than £1 million in the Government’s policing grant for North Wales, which makes up half the force’s budget, to £71.7 million, a 1.4 per cent reduction.
Mr Jones added: “I am still consulting on the Plan so the Plan is not ready to be seen and can only be finalised once we know how much money is available.
“The Plan depends on the funding and not the other way round so their argument is nonsense.
“I have 12 months to publish a plan which expires in May this year
“There is a legal requirement for me to consult the people of North Wales and that is ongoing and the Deputy PCC will be at a public meeting in Pwllheli this week.
“The proposal of a 3.79 per cent increase is based on a sound business case which has been worked through in great detail and in consultation with the Chief Constable.
“I have also consulted with the public by holding an online survey which almost 1,000 council taxpayers took part in and which saw an overwhelming majority in favour of an increase of at least five per cent.
“What I am proposing is considerably less than that and is based on achieving a balance between running an efficient and effective police force with a recognition that many people in North Wales find it difficult to meet even a small increase.
“The level of the precept is crucial to the effectiveness of the force in keeping North Wales a safe place to live, work and visit and setting it is one of my principal responsibilities.
“Policing budgets have been under pressure for a number of years and this will certainly continue to be the case with a further £7 million in cuts to the budget due by 2020.
“In view of this continued uncertainty for police funding for 2018/19 and beyond, holding up this proposal will make it more difficult to deal with potential future reductions in central government funding.”
The Commissioner and the Chief Constable have agreed cuts of £2.86 million in the North Wales Police budget for 2017-2018 with over £1.25 million of those cuts reinvested in frontline services which will also be boosted by an extra £1 million in front line posts from the precept increase.
Mr Jones said: “Policing is under great pressure from new demands being placed upon it – who would have thought that the majority of crime in North Wales is now being committed online rather than on the street?.
“My reserves are in a stable and healthy position and so I am only looking to increase council tax in order to fund the coming year’s expenditure and to deal with the effect of further reductions in government grant if and when this should occur.”