Police commissioner warned against large council tax rise

North Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan.

North Yorkshire’s police commissioner has been warned against asking taxpayers to fund another large increase on the police element of council tax after it emerged the force had £600,000 left over from last year’s budget.

The alert was issued to North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan comes less than a year after she said a decision by the county’s Police, Fire and Crime Committee to agree a precept rise of just under ten per cent – of £22.95 in 2019/20 for a Band D property – gave the force a chance to “redress the balance” towards community policing.

She reappeared before the committee last February after becoming the country’s only commissioner to have a force’s budget vetoed, due to what the panel said was uncertainty over how taxpayers’ money would be spent on the largest police precept rise in living memory.

At the time she was warned future police budgets would be scrutinised in more detail.

Ahead of the government grant and the precept limit for the coming year being announced, committee member Paula Stott said last year’s police budget setting had been “a difficult and draining process for everybody involved”, so she had been left with “deep disappointment and lack of confidence in the decision-making process” by the commissioner having insisted on demanding £600,000 more from taxpayers than had been needed.

She said those left to decide whether to allow the large tax demand had agonised over a decision over whether to fund a growth in the police force officers, but the meeting heard lengthy police recruitment procedures had meant the money wasn’t needed this year.

Panel member Helen Grant, Richmondshire District Council’s deputy leader, said while she was glad Mrs Mulligan had identified potential uses for the £600,000, the public would view it as a miscalculation and sought assurances that it would not happen again.

The meeting heard it was very challenging to set the police budget, make strategic decisions and plan critical services with a single year’s settlement from the Government and that Boris Johnson’s administration appeared to understand this issue.

Mrs Mulligan said she couldn’t give reassurances, but would ensure there had been lessons learnt from the process.

She said: “We were somewhat taken aback by some of the processes in the force around this. Lessons have been learnt. The reason why we have not provided any specific detail about what we are going to spend the money on is because we need to make sure we are not just spending the money for the sake of spending it.”

She said there were serious issues with training which related closely to the development of the workforce and that there was a legitimate policing purpose for spending money on victims’ services. She said the underspend meant there was an opportunity to provide the force with training on crimes such as stalking, harassment and coercive control.

Mrs Mulligan said: “In North Yorkshire we have best conviction rates for rape in the country. That is because we have really excellent support services for victims.

“It is not just about spending something willy-nilly. It is looking properly at where the requirements are and how we can spend this money. If we can’t find those requirements we won’t spend it.”

Ahead of a meeting to decide next year’s budget for the police force, the committee’s chairman Councillor Carl Les told Mrs Mulligan: “It would be a very hard ask for the people that we represent to be asked for a lot more money when they can see that there’s been an underspend.

“They won’t want to understand the nuances of why there was an underspend, they’ll just see the underspend.”