Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has put forward her plans to protect policing levels across County Durham and Darlington in the forthcoming financial year as the force continues to miss out on crucial extra government funding.
The Commissioner is recommending increasing the policing portion of the money people pay towards council tax by 5.1 per cent which equates to an extra 25p per week (£13 a year) for a Band D property.
Many householders will pay less than this (£8.67 per year) due to a higher proportion of Band A properties within the force area.
The increase, which is in line with government assumptions, will generate vital income to enable the Commissioner to maintain police officer numbers at 1,368 until at least April 2025 and PCSO numbers at 146.
It is also necessary for the recruitment of extra control room staff to improve public contact processes and the continuation of IT upgrades that are essential for ensuring the public receives the urgent help needed when they call for help.
More than half of the 1,935 people who responded to the Commissioner’s recent budget survey supported increasing the precept either by £15 or more, acknowledging the difficult job she has in balancing the books in the face of historic underfunding.
In announcing her plans, ahead of a Police and Crime Panel meeting, Commissioner Allen drew attention to the ongoing adversity facing Durham and other low tax base forces who she described as being continually ‘left out in the cold’.
“Put bluntly, Durham remains at the bottom of the pile when it comes to police funding and this has serious implications for our future,” she said.
“There is now universal agreement that the current funding formula is unfit for purpose – even the government’s independent advisors have said so – but with no change on the horizon, Durham keeps on losing out, year after year.
“The accumulation of decades of underfunding is making its presence felt across all operations. Even with a maximum precept rise this year, Durham will yield far less than other areas through the high proportion of Band A properties in the area.
“The force already has the joint lowest budget per recorded crime among similar sized forces at £3,200 – some £300 less than the national average – despite a high rate of demand.
“The uplift programme is yet another good example of the entrenched inequalities from force to force with Durham still 144 officers short of the levels in 2010 while others have grown by hundreds more since the austerity years.
“This makes my job incredibly difficult. At a time when every household is feeling the pinch, no Commissioner would willingly worsen the pain.
“Regrettably, there is no other option. This small increase in this year’s precept is imperative to keep officers at their current levels, to fortify neighbourhood policing as the public have asked and keep my promise to deliver a strong and effective, first-class policing service to local people.
“Let me reiterate, the responsibility for appropriately resourcing police forces should lie squarely with the government and I have already written to the Home Secretary James Cleverly and MP Chris Philp, Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, to make this point known. Until there is a radical policy change, these problems will just go on.”
Despite the limitations of central grant funding and council tax revenue, Commissioner Allen still successfully brought in more than £5.1m of extra funding through Ministry of Justice and Home Office streams last year, helping the force to retain its high performing position.
The policing grant allocated to the force has increased by 6.19 per cent to £118.4m for 2024/25.
If the panel approves the precept increase, the total revenue funding will increase from £157.4m to £167m – an increase of £9.6m or 6.1 per cent. This compares to an average national increase of 6.7 per cent – which means Durham receives a lower increase than the average, as has been the case since 2010 due to its low taxbase.
The money people paid towards policing in 2023/24 helped the Commissioner to instantly strengthen the frontline by taking on more transferee police officers from other forces. These are trained and experienced officers who can make an immediate impact in their communities but cost more to employ.
It also funded an increase in training across the force, an uplift in Special Constables, an extra five police officers, boosted resources in the force control room and supported the launch of Operation Snap – the new public portal introduced by the force allowing people to upload journey cam footage they have obtained to support the prosecution of illegal drivers.
In drafting the 2024-25 budget, the Commissioner has backed Chief Constable Rachel Bacon’s determined focus on neighbourhood policing, supporting her plans to recruit more officers and PCSOs.
Commissioner Allen added: “In an evolving and challenging world, I am proud of our achievements and Durham’s position as a national leader in fighting crime. Residents have made clear their priorities in my recent budget survey and this budget will deliver on those key areas and more as we continue to make our county and borough safer.”