Increased cost of policing in South Wales as force faces budget gap of £20 million
By Local Democracy Reporting Service
3rd Feb 2023 | Local News
A 7.4% hike in the money that council tax payers contribute to South Wales Police is being proposed as the force faces a budget gap of more than £20m.
The precept proposal for next year(2023/2024) which is due to go before the South Wales Police and Crime Panel would see an increase of £1.86 per month for Band D properties, a 7.4% increase for these properties on the 2022/2023 rate.
The force is facing a £20.8m budget gap which the police and crime commissioner said must be made up through cuts and the precept. Alun Michael, the police and crime commissioner for South Wales, said his proposals to the panel are only sufficient if they find ways of cutting another £9.6 million of spending this year.
He said that to maintain current funding across all requirements, it would require a precept increase of over 13% which he "cannot even contemplate", but with additional pressures it is now "impossible" to keep the level of increase down to the 5% projected in the midterm financial plan.
He concluded that it will be "unsafe" to propose a precept less than 7.4% for the coming year which will provide a "workable budget" but not without considerable cuts and savings made in a variety of different ways to balance the books.
He added that most people will not pay the full increase because the figures are based on a band D property but said he is "not happy" about having to propose this specific increase in the precept but also added that he cannot put the people of South Wales at risk and that he would be failing in his duty if he did not ensure that they not only maintain the service but continue to tackle the big issues on which the public want and expect South Wales Police to deliver.
The report from the commissioner which is going before the panel on Tuesday, February 7 said; "Setting the precept for 2023–2024 has been the most difficult in the 10 years I have had the responsibility of proposing the level of local support for Policing in South Wales."
"The cost-of-living crisis is hitting every individual and every service, but having a greater impact on the most vulnerable in society which is why I want to avoid increasing the level of the preserved any further than is absolutely necessary.
"But the police budget has to be at a level that enables our officers and staff to keep people safe in the community – preventing crime and harm, responding to crime and a host of other challenges and working with partners to support safe, resilient, communities in the way that we have worked together so effectively before during, and since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The core element of police finance is the Police Grant which is announced every December by a Home Office Minister – I regret to say that the U.K. Government has failed to maintain the Police Grant at a level that would enable us to set a modest precept.
He said that the last period of austerity, had a major impact on police capacity. South Wales Police lost some 400 police officers and 100 PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) as well as many police staff which took the force to a number of police officers that was fewer than the then chief constable, Peter Vaughan, described as "safe"."
Mr Michael added: "We took every possible step to restore numbers in subsequent years. The government has – belatedly – provided the money to employ more police officers, restoring the total to only just under the number employed by South Wales Police in 2010.
"That is welcome, although it will be some time before those new officers are fully experienced. Today 54% of officers have less than five years' experience which poses challenges to police management.
"And in future years we will have to find money from elsewhere to pay their increments and maintain their capacity because that is not being funded by central government. And the Police Grant for 2023/2024 includes no allowance for the 2023 staff pay award which will have to be found from cuts.
"Our ambition to strengthen neighbourhood, policing and respond to local community needs has been helped enormously by the provision of additional
PCSOs funded by Welsh Government. There too we have an expectation and obligation to maintain the PCSO numbers that are funded from the Police Grant at our full establishment.
Mr Michael said that the key problem is that the additional "uplift" funding is provided on top of the basic police grant, which is only at "flat cash" level. He said that this – in reality – is a significant cut.
He said they will be penalised should they reduce the police establishment from its current total and that removes the flexibility that was used to balance the books during the past decade.
Mr Michael said: "I am one of a number of Police and Crime Commissioners who wrote to the Home Secretary pleading for a level of police grant that would maintain a fair contribution from the exchequer to local policing. We object the way that Ministers have shifted the burden away from the Exchequer and onto local council tax payers, but the reality of this year's Police Grant settlement is a further shift in that direction.
"The Government's sums simply do not add up and yet I have a legal obligation to bring forward a balanced budget and the obligation which stands above all others to keep the communities of South Wales safe by ensuring that the Chief Constable has the resources to do the job. "
He said prevention is better than cure and compared to similar forces South Wales Police is the "most successful in reducing crime which brings a reduction in victims, clear value in avoiding costs to our communities and success in the central responsibility of policing – to prevent crime and harm."
"Of course, that does not bring a return into the police budget, but it is something that we are desperate to continue doing. So today we face a £20.8 million funding gap which must be made up through cuts and precept.
Next year's budget
"My proposals to the panel are only sufficient if we find ways of cutting another £9.6 million of expenditure this year. And while the whole South Wales Police team is devoted to doing everything we can to find savings to ensure that the burden on local people is as low as it can be there is a limit to what is possible.
"While we will cut costs to get within budget there is no way the savings can be sufficient to fill the gap especially as we have to deal with inflation and the increased cost of fuel, energy, IT systems and building costs."
He said that over the past 10 years, through the previous period of austerity, the force found £62million in savings and despite that South Wales Police has "continued to perform impressively, to a very high standard" adding that it is "delivering one of the top performing police forces across the
UK" as well as "protecting the most vulnerable, at a time when the most vulnerable are going to need us most" and "keeping local policing and problem solving at the heart of what we do."
Mr Michael said: "Even in these tough times I believe we achieve more with others than we can achieve alone so we continue to work with partners in Local Government, Welsh Government and in particular with others in the criminal justice system to deliver core services. We are determined to make the criminal justice system in Wales 'the most effective, the most efficient and the fairest that it's possibly can be.'
"That is not just an aspiration, but something on which we are making real progress. And against all of this background, demand is increasing in relation to public needs that would not normally be regarded as police responsibilities, but on which the public look to the police in times of need. To maintain current funding across all requirements would require a
precept increase of over 13% which I cannot even contemplate, but with the additional pressures described above, it is now impossible to keep
the level of increase down to the 5% projected in the midterm financial plan which was presented to the previous panel last year.
"I have therefore concluded that it will be unsafe to propose a precept less than 7.4% for the coming year and the implications of that are spelt out below. That will provide a workable budget, but not without considerable cuts and savings made in a variety of different ways to balance the books.
"It is important to note that most people will not pay the full increase outlined below because the figures are based on a band D property. I am not happy about having to propose this specific increase in the precept, but I cannot put the people of South Wales at risk and I would be failing in my
duty if I did not ensure that we not only maintain the service but continue to
tackle the big issues on which the public want and expect South Wales Police