A two per cent increase in Lincolnshire Police’s part of the council tax bill for this year has been voted through despite fervent opposition.
Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick squeezed through the hike which he says will keep officers’ boots ‘on the ground’ at Thursday’s Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel meeting in Manby.
But anyone who thought the panel would be a rubber stamping exercise will be relieved to learn Mr Hardwick took a grilling from the county’s councillors before the vote was passed with just one in opposition.
Mr Hardwick admitted the increase, an extra 6p per week for the average taxpayer, was a tough call, but said a freeze or a lesser rise would be ‘short sighted’ and would pave the way for a larger hike in the future.
His Police and Crime Plan, which includes a pledge to keep the current 1,100 officers as well as adding another 23, was unanimously passed.
“I have the responsibilty for the safety and security of the people of Lincolnshire, and the plan I think is achievable and sustainable,” the commissioner told the panel.
During the meeting, Mr Hardwick promised he would prove that policing in the county was not ‘Lincoln central’.
He also said visible patrols would make the best of the available officers numbers.
“People should advertise the fact that they are a member of the police force,” he said.
“Lots of vehicles are not marked as I think they should be. All vehicles, unless there are operational reasons, should be marked and this is a very cost effective way of increasing visibility.
“But of course there are occasions where advertising a police presence is not very wise.”
He said targeted operations, like the successful Operation Galileo anti-hare coursing strategy, was something he would be pushing for.
And he admitted he was pleased to see some ‘old school policing tactics’ were still being used, like officers working directly with licensees to eradicate night time violence.
“Physical involvement is going to bear fruit for us,” he told the panel.
Councillor Anne Welburn, of West Lindsey District Council, questioned whether officers could be freed up away from their desks.
“I hate bureaucracy, where I find it and I think it’s unnecessary I will stamp it out,” Mr Hardwick responded.
He also said he would tap into the ‘vast reservoir’ of volunteers in Lincolnshire’s communities.
Mr Hardwick’s Chief Finance Officer, June Flint, explained how central government funding for police would be cut by 20 per cent by 2014/15, leaving a £20 million per year black hole.
The committee’s chairman, Ray Wootten, suggested the force follow the lead of the ‘many councils’ who were freezing their tax requests.
And Coun Stephen Woodliffe, of Boston Borough Council, proposed that the precept increase be pegged at one per cent
The vote was lost, but only after Mr Hardwick said he ‘pleaded’ with the panel.
“I would have to look again at my plan again, I think one per cent would be very short sighted,” he warned.
“We could see increases of six per cent in the future if this was the case.”
Chief Inspector Neil Rhodes said the force was at a ‘tipping point’ and that ‘every penny of comfort ‘had already been driven out’.
“We live in very difficult times, it costs £43,000 to put a police officer on the beat,” he revealed.
“Our problems will only stack up.”
The one per cent vote was lost, and the vote for the two per cent rise was passed as was the Police and Crime Plan.
Afterwards, Mr Hardwick admitted the panel had put him through the mill.
“I expected to be challenged and I expected my plan to be challenged, but at the end of the day the majority of the Police and Crime Panel saw the wisdom of an increase which will mean an extra 6p per week for the vast majority of council tax payers in Lincolnshire,” he said.
“Money is short everywhere but I know with this two per cent increase and my other elements in my Police and Crime Plan that we can continue to keep Lincolnshire one of the safest counties in the country.”