Council tax increase by Sussex Police backed by scrutiny panel

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne
Sussex PCC Katy Bourne
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Plans to add an extra £5 a year to the average council tax bill have been backed by a panel scrutinising Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

Katy Bourne’s proposals to increase the force’s precept by 3.4 per cent from April were discussed by the Sussex Police and Crime Panel on Friday (January 22).

Although most authorities cannot increase their element of council tax by more than two per cent without triggering a referendum, exceptions have been granted to the ten force areas with the lowest precept levels in England, limiting them to a £5 cash increase on Band D properties per annum.

The panel was told this will help Sussex Police to deal with the increasing challenge of using digital forensics to investigate crime as well as enhance police capability to tackle child exploitation and abuse of all kinds.

Presenting the budget and precept plans on Friday, Mrs Bourne highlighted a case in which officers had to sift through 56,000 emails to build their case and another which involved more than a million indecent images of children on one computer.

Mrs Bourne said: “This is hugely resource intensive, takes a lot of time and takes certain skills. Criminals are very quick to capitalise on the opportunities the digital world gives them and the police need to respond effectively.

“What we can’t have is a backlog of cases, because this isn’t justice for the victims of these crimes.”

While members of the panel welcomed investment in these areas, they questioned the commissioner on the impact changes to the policing model would have on her plans.

Concerns were also raised about the number of police staff redundancies the force is expected to make and how this would affect improvements in digital forensics and its work with abuse victims.

The commissioner was asked what the impact on policing would be if the panel rejected the precept.

Mrs Bourne replied: “If the precept doesn’t get supported the money to spend would have to be found and it means that something else would have to give.”

All members of the panel supported the increase. While the settlement will be formally agreed by Government in February, the commissioner said she expected any potential changes to the funding being minimal.

Despite the proposed council tax increase, Sussex Police will still have to make savings of around £35m over the next four years to maintain its current position, the Commissioner warned.

Speaking after the meeting, panel chairman Brad Watson, a West Sussex county councillor, said: “Like all other forces and local authorities, Sussex Police has to find ways to deliver a comprehensive service with less money.

“The force is one of the lowest funded forces in the country and we felt the increase was necessary to ensure investment could be made in areas where it was most needed.”

Other reports to the Police and Crime Panel included an update on Sussex Police’s new policing model, and a report on Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s annual inspection of Sussex Police.

A webcast of the full meeting can be viewed at http://www.eastsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts

The next meeting of the Police and Crime Panel will be held on Friday July 1,

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