On Friday (January 28), the Sussex Police and Crime Panel gave its support to increasing the force’s precept by 4.7 per cent in the 2022/23 financial year — the maximum allowed without triggering a local referendum.
The increase, proposed by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Katy Bourne, would mean a Band D household would pay £10 more towards policing as part of their council tax bill, roughly equivalent to 83p more per month.
Mrs Bourne said: “Seventy-five per cent of all residences in Sussex are B and D or below. So 75 per cent of those council tax payers will not pay more than the 83p a month I am proposing. I think it is really important that we recognise that.
“The other side to think about is the fact we are still the seventh lowest precepted county in the country. So even with this 83p proposed increase, as a taxpayer you will pay the seventh lowest amount in England and Wales.”
“Our government grant isn’t the biggest — I think we rank 12th or 13th lowest — and the amount we are getting from government is still frozen.
“One of the few areas that I can actually, with your support, make a change and put more into policing, so we do not move backwards, is around the precept.”
Overall, the precept increase would be expected to bring in an additional £7.9m. But even with additional precept income and government funding, the panel heard that Sussex Police will need to find £5m worth of savings in order to set a balanced budget in 2022/23.
The majority of these savings are to be drawn from “ongoing departmental savings plans and contractual changes”, although some would also come from ‘vacancy management’.
This was of concern to some panel members, who had noted that the current Sussex Police vacancy rate was around 7.7 per cent.
While the precept increase received unanimous support from the panel, concerns were raised about the impact of year-on-year increases in council tax bills across the county, particularly given the looming cost of living squeeze.
Among those to raise concerns was Crawley Borough councillor Michael Jones (Lab), who said: “I want to make it clear that I certainly don’t begrudge Sussex Police the money, but you can’t just look at this in isolation, especially not this year.
“Combined with the upcoming national insurance increases, the other cost of living pressures [and] the increases we know are going to happen in other authorities, commissioner your proposed increase is inevitably going to be piling on the pressure to people on low incomes.
“I think that is not reflecting the reality that others are not paying the same proportions, particularly those who are higher earners. I think many people in Sussex are going to have quite a shock in April when they see what this all adds up to.
“I’m not sitting here in condemnation saying you are responsible for all of it; I know you are not.
“But, because these increases aren’t being done on ability to pay, I think going forward after this meeting, influential people like your good self are going to have to be telling the government in no uncertain terms that this unfair pressure on those on low incomes cannot continue.”
In response Mrs Bourne said she ‘did not underestimate’ the financial pressures likely to be faced by many Sussex residents, but highlighted the council tax reduction schemes available to the lowest paid.
She also highlighted the consultation undertaken on the proposals, which found 67 per cent of respondents were in favour of increasing the precept.
Mrs Bourne said: “I am under no illusions how difficult some people across Sussex are going to find the coming years financially. I am very, very aware of that.
“That is why the consultation we do is so wide and so varied. We try to reach as many groups as we can, so we can have those conversations and understand the concerns.
“But again, as I have pointed out, 75 per cent of all households in Sussex will pay no more than 83p [more] a month.”
She added: “It is going to be difficult, I know, but this is the one opportunity I have to actually give that help and support to Sussex Police which has not come from the government grant.”
Mrs Bourne also said she was also lobbying with PCCs for the government to carry out a funding review for police forces around the country.
The commissioner also spoke about plans for continued recruitment in 2022/23, with plans to hire 192 new police officers.
According to meeting papers, the force would aim to have 3,096 full time equivalent officers by the end of March 2023. By way of comparison, the force had 2,959 full time equivalent officers at the end of March 2012.