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Taxpayers facing 'indirect' rises to fund policing, crime commissioner warns

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings

THE FULL financial impact of a Government policy of “indirect taxation” to pay for policing has been laid bare by South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, with a warning he expects no relief from the current pressure on budgets.

Dr Alan Billings said as Government policing grants have been cut back, he has been left with no option other than to increase the policing precepts paid by residents through council tax.

However, as Whitehall historically paid the bulk of policing costs, the force has still been left with a total shortfall of £29m since 2010.

Precept rises are capped each year by the Government, but Dr Billings said the only alternative to imposing the maximum rise would be to see the police service cut even further.

He said: “It is the Government raising taxation indirectly, through people like me, to put the precept up. Because if you don’t do it, you will have to cut the force even more.

“My view for the next few years is that there will not be any additional funding. Attention has switched to social care. I think the reality is the Government will not give more money. The best we can hope for is that it will stay the same.”

He said the police would have to seek further efficiencies through the way they work to preserve services.

Dr Billings has also written to Policing Minister Nick Hurd asking for an extra bail-out as legacy costs of millions of pounds a year threaten to put the force’s finances in a “very precarious position”.

He said they had applied for grants to cover the costs of civil claims arising from the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal and the Hillsborough disaster, as well as the cost of funding the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood into abuse in Rotherham.

He said: “One way or another these claims will have to be met and Operation Stovewood will have to be paid for, but it could have such an impact on South Yorkshire Police that it could really put our finances in a very, very precarious position.”

In total, the claims for all three legacy costs add up to at least £14m for this year.

Historically, when claims for help have been granted, a £2.4m penalty has been knocked off the Government’s award, in a system similar to an insurance ‘excess’.

Dr Billings has now written to Mr Hurd asking whether the Home Office would consider all three claims as one, to give just one penalty, instead of a combined £7.2m loss.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the Government was still committed to prioritising police funding in next year's Spending Review and was also keen to point out the size of the force's cash reserves.

She said: "South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has used his council tax precept flexibility, which means funding for that force is increasing by around £5m in 2018/2019. In addition, it is important to remember that in March 2017, South Yorkshire police had reserves of £46.4m.

“However, we know the nature of crime is changing and that is why the Policing Minister has spoken to every police force in the country to understand the demands they are facing and why the Home Secretary last month committed to prioritising police funding in next year’s Spending Review.”