RON Hogg is Durham Police, Crime and Victims' Commissioner

"I HAVE read with interest the letters to The Northern Echo from local people about my proposals to increase the policing element of council tax, known as the precept, by 13.24 per cent this year. I share the concerns about this rise, and I welcome the serious debate that is taking place about it. I and my staff have attended a number of public meetings over the past few weeks and similar issues have been raised there.

I am hearing that most people acknowledge the fact that Durham Constabulary is an outstanding police force. They reflect the view of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, which has rated the force as the most effective and efficient force in the country for three years in a row. Nick Hurd MP, the Policing Minister, also recently expressed in Parliament “the admiration of the Government for the performance of Durham Police”.

I am committed to ensuring that the constabulary invests in people, innovation and IT to find further efficiencies, so that people who live, work and visit the area are protected, and the force remains “outstanding”. However, this gets harder every year. Since 2010, Government funding for policing in Durham and Darlington has been cut in real terms by 32 per cent. About 75 per cent of the money spent by the force comes from a Government grant, and the rest of it is paid by council tax payers through the policing precept.

I am determined to protect neighbourhood policing, so that there is an effective police presence in your area. However, the long-term reduction in Government funding in real terms, means that front-line policing will be at risk unless I increase the policing precept.

You may have seen in the press that Government has increased its direct grant allocation to police forces, for one year only. What hasn’t always been made clear is that this will have to pay for an increase in the pension deficit for policing – an issue which affects every force in the country, following a Government re-calculation of size of the deficit. I am left in a position where I need to increase the precept by 13 per cent, the maximum permitted, in order to sustain front-line policing, and to invest in IT, tackling cybercrime and other measures to make the force as efficient as possible in the future.

I want to take this opportunity to respond to some of the issues which have been raised by readers recently:

  • My focus on efficiency applies to my office as well as to the constabulary. That’s why I have reduced the cost of this office to a level below that before I came into office in 2012: my costs are still about 25 per cent lower than they were in the days of Durham Police Authority;
  • Last year, when I increased the precept by seven per cent (at the time, the maximum the Government allowed), there was strong support in the consultation for me to do so. Rather than ignoring people’s views, I was grateful that people supported my intention to maintain the number of police officers;
  • l I would prefer to be able to impose a higher increase on properties in the higher council tax bands, so that those with lower incomes do not have to pay so much; unfortunately, Government doesn’t allow this;
  • l There are some who have questioned the cost of having a police and crime commissioner. That’s a matter for the Government, which introduced PCCs in 2012. They were introduced to replace police authorities. The PCC is a directly-elected post which enhances the voice of the community when holding the police force to account. If people have concerns about policing, or matters they think should have a higher priority, they can raise them with me and I will raise them with the force.

Government has decided to pass more of the cost of policing onto local people, despite increased pressures on household budgets. That means that, to maintain the excellent police force we have, I feel that this increase is necessary. This approach is unfair to areas like ours which have high levels of deprivation. It is an approach which I have challenged with Government, and I will continue to do so as I campaign for a “fair funding” model.

Our costs continue to rise, and we need to invest in measures to make the force as efficient as possible. You will find a consultation document setting out the proposed precept increase in more detail on my website, together with a survey. I would welcome your views."