Grant bid could prevent police officer cuts

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Lincolnshire Police faces an 11 per cent rise in its share of council tax, a £3.6 million deficit in its budget and the loss of at least 103 staff, but Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones says the government could still save the day.

An application to the Home Office, which Mr Jones was completing last week, could bring in more money than the deficit and could see the force hiring additional staff.

But if that is the case, why is Chief Constable Bill Skelly announcing cuts?

“What the chief was articulating was very much the worst-case scenario based on what we know to be fact today,” said Mr Jones. “But equally in a few days’ time we might be saying ‘hang-on we’ve now got £3, 4, or 5million – we’re actually able to fill all those gaps and more.”

Mr Skelly welcomed the tax rise which he said will help tackle some of the “chronic underfunding” , but is not as confident about the grant.

He said: “There are a lot of ‘ifs’ to pass before we arrive at the point of having money in our hands.

“Last time, we got under 50 per cent of the money we applied for so we do have to be very careful about the prediction of how much money might come to us.

“If it does, I’ll be the first to take it and give policing a boost in Lincolnshire.”

He described the next two years as trying to balance what government gives the force and what it needs to deliver its services.

The force has however seen a series of recent investments in technology, including new drones, vehicles and buildings. Mr Jones says these are modernising the force, saving time and making officers more efficient. He says, for instance, mobile devices have freed up 1.2 hours a day – the equivalent of 40 bobbies.

“I’ll be honest, we’d have run out of money two or three years ago if we hadn’t made those innovations,” he said.

Mr Skelly said the command and control systems were like an old car, needing more maintenance at greater cost.

The new under-construction South Park building in Lincoln, shared with EMAS and Fire and Rescue, both say, is designed to last.

It has had an extra £6 million tagged onto the cost since Mr Jones and Mr Skelly took over, and the former says it is a “completely different” build to the original plan, which was set to cost £15 million.

It is bigger to start with, and both praise the shared building aspect. They say it will save money on running costs – including solar power.

The idea of shared office space is something which is also planned to be rolled out elsewhere. Details on the project are sparse, but both are keen to say services will not be lost.

“Without question, it will mean that some buildings we currently use will not be needed in the future, but that is not about taking service away from the public,” said Mr Jones.

“It’s about trying to innovate it and say ‘well surely it makes sense for us to work better together as public services rather than each having our own little kingdom that we each pay even more for than we should.”

The aim, he said, is for officers to be mobile and stay in the community for longer without going back to a building any more than they have to.

Both say they will continue to lobby for a change in funding formula, set to be revisited by Central Government later this year and introduced in 2021 – but they warn the funding gap could continue to grow.