08 Feb Budget speech
Below is my Budget Speech as delivered to the Gloucestershire Police & Crime Panel on Monday 8th February 2021.
Firstly I’d like to set the context to this budget. By any standards this has been an unprecedented year and a year when the public sector has been tested and called upon in ways unimaginable when I presented my budget to you last year.
I therefore want to record my thanks firstly to the NHS to who we all owe a massive debt of gratitude but also to recognise the professionalism and considerable part played by the other emergency services, Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue and the Gloucestershire Constabulary and publicly thank them. Their job is far from finished and I wish them well. This year I think has demonstrated like no other the importance of our public services and the publics support for them.
The panel will be aware that the Gloucestershire Constabulary have always been graded either outstanding or good at managing its finances, understanding its demand and planning for the future. It is because that attention to detail by my office and the force that I can report the constabulary is financially sound and that I can present to you a budget today that not only demonstrates tremendous progress over the last several years; a budget that continues to grow the organisation both numerically and in capability but a budget that invests not just for today but also for future generations.
Before I present next year’s budget I’d like to report back to the panel on how the increase agreed last year was invested and the benefits realised.
Firstly as I indicated the government funded an additional 46 officers as part of the national uplift programme. Gloucestershire met and exceeded the target of 46 and recruited an additional 37 officer. Credit indeed to the Chief Constable and his team.
We also invested in and opened the forces new training and leadership centre which is a national exemplar of good practise. The centre was opened ‘virtually’ by the home secretary Priti Patel and visited by the Police Minister who was highly complementary.
The Sabrina Centre is a facility that reused obsolete buildings and creates a sustainable asset for current and future generations.
In addition to the uplift funding I was permitted to increase the percept by up to 4% but determined an increase of 2.7% was sufficient to meet both the needs of the police and was reasonable and fair to the tax payer.
I’m pleased to report that as a direct outcome of the precept increases over the last two years an additional 73 officers and 27 police staff have been recruited.
At the outset of the pandemic I released 1m from the general reserve to the Chief Constable to support the force to adjust and tackle the many issues. £1.3m
You will also recall that last year I created a one million pound capital fund to enable the police to review and improve how they communicate and connect with the public.
I had also built into my financial plans sufficient capacity to convert that fund into revenue when that work had been completed and a proposal submitted to my finance board.
Much of that capital fund was spent on a new CRM (customer relations system) for the force control room and work to move demand online to relieve pressure on the 999 and 101 systems. We are already seeing the benefits of that work.
In September last year a fully costed proposal was brought to my finance Board to convert that one million capital in to revenue in future years. (See annex A)
This investment has resulted in investments in the contact centre and technology upgraded. The Structure of the force has been changed to increase the emphasis on neighbourhood policing ensuring the command structure is clearly focussed on local issues and priorities.
Last year you may recall I reported that between 2018 and 2020 we had seen growth of circa 70 officers and 30 staff and that over the following three years I anticipated a combined total increase the region of 300. I can now revise that estimate and report that the investments already made and proposed now will see us reach circa 254 this year and will be in excess of 300 in 2022. A tremendous achievement managed by my office and the constabulary. (see annex B).
More resources have been invested in safeguarding children to help protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. The often unseen activities that identify, disrupt and prevent serious and organised crime from gaining a foothold in our area have also been increased.
I have also seen the constabulary increase its activities to reduce the devastating impact on individuals and families of death and serious injury on our roads by not just enforcement but also education and working with our partners to reduce the root cause of these terrible incidents.
I am also very conscious of the very difficult job and the high expectations we place on our officers, staff and volunteers and it is vital that we train and equip them to the highest standards to both protect them and enable them to protect the public.
The specialist operations centre at Bamfurlong is no longer fit to meet the current demands we place on it and is no longer able to support the highly trained and specialist teams we need within our county to respond to the most challenging and serious incidents. Plans are now in place to significantly upgrade and enhance this facility. When complete this will also provide the right support for both current and future generations.
I must now move on the proposals for the next financial year but before I do so I would like to share with you the process we adopted for consultation and the outcome of it.
The world has changed, the financial damage to our economy is clear but also it appears to me different households have been affected differently.
I needed to hear from these households and as far as is possible take their views into account. Equally important I felt it was important to give everyone a chance to be heard and to have a voice.
At this point in my speech I handed over to the Deputy Chief Executive of the OPCC, Ruth Greenwood to talk through the public consultation.
I will now move us to the challenge that we face today. Once again we are faced with a 12 month settlement greatly inhibiting our medium term plan. We have another year of our underlying grant frozen, a cut in our capital grant, and increased costs from the home office against the climate of increased demands, expectations and risks. I am pleased and grateful that we continue to be provided with funding to support new officers. This will assist in bringing our (p6 budget paper) establishment up to 1196 over the next two years. However welcome this is it should be seen in the context of a minimum 2 year and increasingly three year training programme before these officers are fully capable of being fully deployed as part of the core establishment.
I have been given the flexibility to raise more money but this will all fall on the local Council tax payer. I welcome this flexibility. An extra £15.00 a year for a band D property may not seem much to many of us however this rise will be on top of many others and would have to be met be residents who may have seen substantial reductions in their income as a result directly or indirectly of Covid.
I was disappointed when my flexibility to increase precept by the maximum £15 was deliberately misrepresented by a political group as an already agreed funding outcome. To do so was misleading, disrespectful to the community, the panel and me. We all know the Chancellor has the flexibility to raise a range of taxes in his budget in March I would not seek to announce them before he had undertaken his consultation, taken advice and made his determination.
As you have heard my extensive public consultation has shown a strong support for the Police but a great concern on affordability. This has made coming to a decision on next year’s precept more challenging than ever.
I have, as you would expect, been in close discussion with the Chief Constable who has clearly set out what resources he would like over the next 12 months. My responsibility is to ensure resources are delivered to meet the needs of the county now and ensure that the Constabulary is in the best possible position to continue to meet those challenges in future years.
The Chief constable has clearly set out the scale of the financial challenge, the ongoing cost pressures and how has already been delivered in the report previously circulated. I have outlined today how investments have been made in the establishment, Public contact and the estate. These are all helping. The Chief Constable and I are in agreement we must seek to improve the technology we use to support our officers in undertaking their duties. It is critical when responding to a call from the public, sending resources to an incident or investigating criminal activity at all levels that we have both the best and most timely information available. That information comes through technology.
I now want to see the constabulary move forward on its plans to invest in its intelligence systems, mobile data, resource management and training to ensure it is equipped with and know how to use the best available information. I have no doubt that those that would do harm already have such capability. A transformation programme is in place that sets out the ambition but I have asked for this to be reviewed and focussed to ensure it delivers against a more compressed timescale.
As part of this programme I expect to see efficiencies either through improved response and outcomes or reduced cost. I have discussed and agreed this approach with the Chief Constable. The Constabulary has an enviable track record of managing its finances and delivering an efficient and effective service, a position that has been independently assessed and reported on by both HMICFRS and the external auditors over many years. This is something that I expect to continue long into the future.
I now come to the crux of today’s meeting. My proposal for next year’s precept increase. I ruled out the option of freezing but considered an inflation linked increase .Both regrettably would have created a climate of cuts in service and damaged the delivery to the public at a time when they are being called to deliver more. It may have been received well in some areas but I would be failing in my principal duties and potentially be seen as sacrificing the service for political motives. At the other end of the scale I considered imposing the maximum increase allowed without resort to a referendum, 5.8%. This would see cash increased ranging from £10 for a band B property through to £15 for a band D and £30 for the highest band H properties. Having reflected on this I considered the impact on those most struggling to pay together with the investments already made in previous years.
Setting this budget has been the most difficult in my 8 years as commissioner as I am acutely aware that whilst many are able and willing to pay more to support policing there are others who though willing will struggle to meet the costs. I’m also aware that often it is these household that have the greatest need of our public services and any budget that diminished the capabilities of our police could disproportionately disadvantage them.
It is for that reason I have set the increase at the lowest level I can reasonably can without stalling the tremendous progress that has been made to recover from austerity. I have therefore stressed to the Chief Constable, his officers PCSO’s and staff the importance of meeting the primary challenge of my police and crime plan, ‘Every Crime Matters – every contact counts’
It’s also about taking personal responsibly. I personally can afford to pay the increase, but I want to do more, I have therefore decided that as I did during my first term of office next year take a 10% reduction in my salary to support the charitable part of The Commissioners Fund. I appreciate it’s a small personal gesture but one others may wish to consider.
In coming to my proposal therefore I have given due cognisance to:
The requirements of the Chief Constable,
The funding provided by Central Government,
The responses to my public consultation,
The continued drive to deliver ongoing efficiencies
The need to continue to invest to ensure we are fit for both today and future generations
Continue to restore the damage caused by many years of austerity.
I am confident that my proposal will achieve all these and continue the journey that will see a continued increase in officer numbers supported by good infrastructure and training regime that will provide the residents, businesses and visitors to Gloucestershire with the service they both deserve and need. At the same time the budget will maintain a requirement for the Constabulary to continually improve and identify efficiencies to ensure we maintain our reputation for providing value for money.
It’s also important to look after the wellbeing of our officers and staff and I’m pleased to report the constabulary’s well-being and supportive leadership programme has gone from strength to strength. I have therefore made provision for a budget of £100k for the Chief Constable to make ad hoc improvements to the working environment of his officers and staff.
The detail as always is within my written report and this should answer the many questions I am sure you have. However I will now conclude with a clear proposal to increase the Gloucestershire Police Precept by 4.99% for the next financial year.