Householders in a county with the lowest crime rates in England and Wales will pay for an above inflation rise for its police force to fund pressures facing the force, such as spiralling domestic violence.
Following a tense meeting with North Yorkshire’s police, fire and crime panel, the county’s commissioner Julia Mulligan had her proposal to set the police element of the council tax for average band D property taxpayers for the coming financial year at £265.77.
Panel members were split over whether to veto Mrs Mulligan’s planned increase of £10, or 3.91 per cent over the 2019/20 level – the maximum rise the government will allow – and questioned why residents should accept such a rise when she had set an above inflation rise last year and yet £600,000 of that had not been spent.
Mrs Mulligan said the force needed additional resources in the face of rising crime, with the county seeing the highest increase in burglary rates, one of the biggest rises in violent crime, a 36 per cent increase in domestic abuse and a backlog of hundreds domestic abuse victims to support.
She said while the government had “short-changed” the force with its grant, leaving residents to fund the £3.8m to maintain services, it was clear the government had a strong ambition to cut crime and recognised the operational pressures forces were under.
Councillor Helen Grant told Mrs Mulligan, who is due to step down as commissioner in May, it had been suggested some of her proposed initiatives to spend the £600,000 were “short-termist” and “vanity projects”.
The Richmondshire councillor questioned whether taxpayers would be better served by retaining the funding for her successor to set off their priorities.
The commissioner told the committee: “We haven’t got an underspend of £600,000. The money has been spent on recruiting police officers. There’s just been a delay in getting them into the post.”
Panel member Paula Stott replied it had been Mrs Mulligan’s office that had described the £600,000 as an underspend. She said: “I don’t know how something a month ago was called an underspend and now is not called an underspend. Something’s not stacking up.”
Mrs Mulligan said it was “a timing and process issue”, and about ensuring that suitably qualified police officers filled the required posts. The commissioner was repeatedly challenged over whether she should save the £600,000.
She responded: “Why would we want to save it when we have got 36 per cent increase in domestic abuse cases and hundreds of victims waiting for a service?”
After the panel considered the decision in private – a move that was unsuccessfully challenged by the commissioner’s office – the panel’s chairman Councillor Carl Les said it had “significant concerns” about the underspend, but it would not veto the proposed police precept.
Following the meeting, Cllr Les said: “Last year we agreed to a very large increase on the back of a number of commitments the commissioner was making. The majority of those have been carried out, even though there was an underspend on last year’s budget.”
He said vetoing the precept could have bound the force from going forward in the future and panel members were aware of a high demand from residents for an increased visible police service.