Ukraine war and Brexit blamed over increase in North Wales policing precept
North Wales’ police and crime commissioner said he is conscious of the impact of the cost of living crisis despite increasing the region’s police precept by over five per cent.
Labour’s Andy Dunbobbin said a “perfect storm” of the Ukraine war, Brexit and the Covid pandemic had caused him to propose a rise in the local policing levy.
However, he has pledged to “make a difference” to the people of North Wales after recalling a time when his own family relied on benefits to survive.
The police precept is included as part of annual council tax bills, and this year it will cost each household 31p extra per week.
The rise follows a public survey in which residents were asked about policing in the area, as well giving their view on a number of proposed precept increases, ranging from 19p to 35p extra a week.
North Wales Police will receive a grant of £88.7m in 2023/24 from the UK Government with the rest of the funding for policing in the region coming from money raised by the precept, which will bring in just over £100.2m, amounting to a total budget of £188.9m.
Last year’s precept brought in £93.86m and the total budget was around £182.2m.
This means that the force’s budget will have increased by almost £6.7m from last year, with the precept increase bringing in nearly £6.4m of that sum.
The precept was agreed by the North Wales Police and Crime Panel this week where councillors heard how the force has reserves of around £42m.
In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Dunbobbin said a “perfect storm” had forced the the decision to increase rates, despite the force making millions of pounds of savings.
He said: “There are a few things that have significantly impacted the level of the precept.
“The war in Ukraine has affected it; Brexit has had an impact as well, and we’ve had the pandemic.
“It has been a bit of a perfect storm where significant things have happened beyond anybody’s control. But what I can do is to try and mitigate as best as I can.
“I’ve been involved in public life since 2012 and a county councillor since 2013, and all I’ve experienced through my time previously as a county councillor for Flintshire is how to deliver more services with less money.
“We do have very robust and challenging conversations between myself, the chief (constable) and the force.”
Budget cuts proposed by North Wales Police include savings to the emergency services network budget (a national scheme to improve the ‘airwave communications network’), a reduction in staff turnover costs (such as experienced staff retiring and being replaced by new staff on less pay), and finding cheaper IT contracts.
During a time when utility-bill prices, fuel, and the general cost of living have skyrocketed, councils such as Conwy have attracted criticism for proposing to increase council tax by as much as ten per cent.
But Mr Dunbobbin said he understood personal hardship after revealing his own family previously had had to rely on benefit payments.
He said: “What I do know is if people are under financial pressure, they are increasingly more vulnerable and susceptible to other things that are out there.
“I’m all about how we can protect vulnerable people as best as we can. We all make choices in our lives. It might not be the right choice, but it is about supporting those and trying to help those people make better-informed choices.
“They may become more vulnerable because of the cost-of-living crisis. I’m quite aware of what people are experiencing, and as somebody who has been in receipt of council-tax benefits, housing benefits, working tax credit, child tax credit and child benefits, I’m really grateful.
“But I’m also aware of what risks that can present to some who may not be as resilient as me, and that’s a real shame, so we should be able to do whatever we can to support those people.”
Speaking at the crime panel meeting this week at Conwy’s Bodlondeb HQ, Cllr Louise Emery commended the police for making cuts that wouldn’t damage police visibility.
But Cllr Emery also pointed out that North Wales Police had asked for more money, despite having a healthy bank balance.
She said: “It is clear that North Wales Police’s finances are in a pretty good state.
“We have a strong balance sheet, and we have £42m in reserves. I’m sure there are a few county councils that would love to have £42m in reserves.”
In response, the force’s chief finance officer Kate Jackson said: “£42m sounds such a lot of money; it really does. And if I had £40m, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, talking to you about this.
“But it is not much money for a large public-sector organisation, and if we set the council tax lower, then we would run the risk of running these reserves into negative territory very quickly.”
Panel members backed the precept increase unanimously at the end of the debate.
By Richard Evans – BBC Local Democracy Reporter
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