A LACK of policing on the streets is purely due to funding cuts, writes Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, following recent protests over crime levels in rural parts of the force area

The Northern Echo: Chief Constable Iain Spittal with Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger

FUNDS CALL: Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger (right) with Chief Constable Iain Spittal

Loading article content

RECENTLY, whilst reading the Cleveland Police overnight incident log, I learned of an officer who went to the aid of a person being threatened at knifepoint. At great risk to his own safety, the officer disarmed the assailant who is now receiving psychiatric care.

It’s the type of bravery displayed on a daily basis by our police officers. It’s also an example of the extra work the police are doing in cases involving mental health issues. I know from the 500 community meetings I have attended since first being elected that the public have great admiration for the work of the police, they just wish there were more of them and I agree.

There are two main sources of income for Cleveland Police – the local precept paid by council taxpayers and central funding from the Government.

In the past seven years Government funding to Cleveland Police has fallen in real terms by £39m – that equates to 36 per cent less than we received in 2010. The result is we have lost 450 police officers and 50 community support officers in that time, during which time I have seen calls to the police increase from 800 to 1,200 a day.

The money we raise by the local precept is far less than other forces who serve a similar population. This is because the precept is based on the council tax base – the more Band D and higher houses in your area the more you raise from the precept. For example Gwent Police serve a population 3.5 per cent greater than Cleveland’s but the amount they receive in precept is 35 per cent higher – about £16m - and you can provide a lot of additional frontline officers for that.

If Cleveland sought to use this route to fund the officers lost in the past seven years it would have to raise the precept by 70 per cent with further high rises to maintain numbers. By law we have to hold a referendum if we wish to raise the local precept by more than two per cent – only one area has attempted this, it cost more than £500,000 of police funds and failed.

I would take some convincing that we should go down such a drastic route – we already ask enough of local taxpayers.

In deciding how much central grant we receive, the Government has already assumed we will seek a two per cent local precept rise and deducted it. Of course, inflation and other rising costs means in real terms this standstill budget represents a cut of £2.5m to £3m, the equivalent of another 60 police officers.

SOME have suggested a commission into the structure of Cleveland Police, examining what has gone on in the past and possibly merging it with neighbouring forces – they seem to think this will somehow produce a better service for the public.

This is sheer folly. Such a commission would divert further resources from frontline policing and any merger would cost millions of pounds and see local policing controlled from out of the area, which is not what the public want.

The force is already subject to regular independent inspection by experts in the field, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and I would urge everyone to read their most recent report into force effectiveness, efficiency and leadership.

It concludes Cleveland Police is ‘good’ at keeping local communities safe, assessing demand and best use of our limited resources. It’s the second year running we have received such a positive report and demonstrates clear progress from 2015 when the force was classed as requiring improvement.

There is no doubt the force made mistakes in the past. Regrettable actions, some by previous senior management, have taken years to confront and correct.

The current leadership team has taken decisive steps in analysing those mistakes and putting in place structural reform, including delivering on my Police & Crime Plan aim to transform professional standards and introducing the Everyone Matters programme focussed on equality, diversity and human rights.

I believe Cleveland is one of the most improved forces in the country and that is backed up by independent inspection. Now is the time for everyone to be forward looking rather than spending further precious resources and undermining hard working officers and staff by looking backwards.

So let’s be clear. A lack of policing on the streets has nothing to do with the problems of the past, with poor management, or with inefficiency. It is a question of funding.

Both the Chief Constable and I have repeatedly pressed our claims with the Prime Minister and Home Office. The more united we are as an area the more likely our single voice will be heard and so I am calling on all elected representatives to back this campaign for fairer funding for Cleveland Police and the police service in general.