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Council tax rise to boost Hampshire police officers backed unanimously

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane (centre) addresses members of the crime panel
Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane (centre) addresses members of the crime panel

A SHOW of hands gave the green light to raise Hampshire Police’s share of the council tax by £24 for a Band D property for 2019/20 – amid warnings a similar future hike risked losing the public’s “goodwill”.

Members of the county’s police and crime panel unanimously gave their backing to Conservative police and crime commissioner (PCC) Michael Lane’s proposal to raise the precept at their latest meeting.

It means the equivalent of a Band D property in the county will pay £201.46 for police services – up from £177.46 in 2018/19. Around 61% of homes in Hampshire are classed as Band A, B or C, so will pay less than the £24 rise.

The rise will raise £16m for the force, which Mr Lane has pledged will be spentrecruiting at least another 200 officers, 65 police staff investigators and fund more training for PCSOs.

It is also meant to protect local policing, including rural neighbourhoods such as the New Forest.

The support follows last year’s meeting when the panel unusually criticised Mr Lane’s spending proposals and urged him to rethink his priorities.

Despite the support this time, some panel members noted the years ahead promise more funding problems unless gaps can be plugged.

Currently the figures project £2m will need to be found next year, £5m the year after and £10m in 2022/23.

Cllr John Beavis cautioned against further precept raises, noting there was already a plan to “saddle” the taxpayers with another £12 Band D rise in 2020/21.

Cllr Gary Hughes warned Mr Lane: “You currently have the goodwill of the public. But keep doing year on year these significant increases and that goodwill will be lost. And that will be to the detriment of the police force and to the public.”

Speaking after the panel’s backing, Mr Lane said he was “delighted” with the outcome: “The additional funds represent a real opportunity to stop the ongoing reduction in policing numbers and will enhance current capacity and protect local policing.

“Recognising that it is the chief constable who is responsible for operational policing and the configuration of the force to meet operational demand, it will now be for the chief constable to identify how these extra officers will challenge local crime.

“And I will be scrutinising to ensure that this delivers real improvement to local safety.”

A report to the meeting revealed there have been £90m of funding cuts to Hampshire Police’s budget since 2010/11 and 1,893 jobs have been axed – a reduction of 29% of officers.

It is currently one of the lowest funded forces – fifth lowest per head of the population out of 43 forces in England and Wales.

Each year the government calculates what it will give each force but for the 2019/20 year it did not provide Hampshire with enough cash to balance its books. Of the constabulary’s total annual funding, 61% comes through government grants, the remaining 39% from the council tax precept.

But it did offer PCCs the chance to increase the police precept by the maximum amount of £24 a year to fill those funding shortfalls.

Mr Lane told the panel he had decided to use that power but there were financial difficulties projected for the future and funding was an “underlying weakness”.

He added: “With national funding making up two-thirds of the money available to us, a fairer funding formula that delivers for Hampshire remains vital to enable the force to invest for the future and stay ahead of new and emerging threats.

“That is why I have pushed for fairer funding for Hampshire and must and will continue to do so.”

Mr Lane said his proposed increase had the backing of Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney and was “absolutely necessary” since the alternative of a £12 raise would result in 150 officers having to leave their posts to balance the books.

Mr Lane said the Hampshire force reserves were “under significant pressure” and pointed out how last year the chief constable, for the first time ever, had had to source mutual aid support formally from external sources to help colleagues.

He revealed the force anticipated spending millions on an inquiry over the Gosport War Memorial Hospital scandal but could apply for a grant from a national funding pot. It was also making plans for Brexit and a possible no-deal and he pledged to maintain its focus on urban issues.

The police and crime panel consists of councillors from across the county. The New Forest representative, former policeman Cllr Steve Clarke, offered his wholehearted support for the plan.

After the meeting, panel chair Cllr Dave Stewart said: “It felt today we were all working together in the interests of our community and I’ll look forward to continued dialogue going forward.”

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