By John Connell
Local democracy reporter
CUMBRIANS will pay more for their police force after a council tax hike was voted through.
Cash-strapped police chiefs spoke of the stark choice between upping the precept and slashing officer numbers, with demand for their services on the rise.
The plea for more cash comes against a 21 per cent surge in overall crime across the county, funding “uncertainty” and the challenges of keeping pace with cyber crime.
The precept will rise by £24 a year for Band D properties, an increase of 10 per cent – money that will be used to keep on an additional 25 police officers as well as recruiting another 20.
The Police and Crime Panel agreed unanimously but “reluctantly” to the increase after hearing a plea from Peter McCall, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
“I get the message firmly and clearly that people want to see more of the police,” he said. “And I constantly respond with the harsh reality that if we want more, we must be ready to pay more.
“I am conscious any increase in tax for any of us is unwelcome: I pay council tax too. I feel the effects of any increase. Our job is to do the very best for our residents, and none of us would ever willingly increase tax.That said, my priority is to honour the oath that I took on being elected to do all I can to ensure the police are able to cut crime and protect the public.
“The consequences of not taking this opportunity to raise the precept will be a real threat to the sustainability of our officer numbers just when we are starting to see the tangible effects of our current strategy.
“It will see a halt to investment in essential IT and technology programmes – and without doubt the public will see a reduction in service, which I am not prepared to countenance on my watch.”
The move comes after the Government provisionally increased funding by £970m, with £509m of this coming from an option to increase the precept to its maximum level.
A consultation exercise into the changes found that around 70 per cent of people consulted were in favour of the increase.
Without the funding increase of more than £7m, police chiefs said there would be no other alternative other than to reduce officer numbers”.
County-wide, the provisional resource will see a cash increase from £102.9m in 2018/19 to £110m in 2019/20.