Posted: 21.02.21 at 06:00 by Stephen Sumner - Local Democracy Reporter
Avon and Somerset Police will get critical funding for 70 new officers after a revised budget was agreed at the eleventh hour.
Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said a vote by councillors to veto her original proposals had damaged staff morale and sparked claims they were playing politics.
She had wanted households to pay an extra £15 from April, the maximum allowed, but settled on £13.39, with the gap plugged from reserves.
Avon Fire Authority and councils across Avon and Somerset are also increasing their shares of council tax, most by the maximum allowed.
Bringing her revised budget to the police and crime panel meeting on February 18, Ms Mountstevens said: “There’s been a lot of noise that what we’re seeing is a tussle between the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and the panel, that it’s playing politics and trying to undermine the independent role of the PCC.
"There’s even been speculation that someone in the panel is going to stand for the election.
“This decision is too important for such chatter. We need to rise above that.
“My revised precept seeks to maintain the critical investment in proactive policing, offender management and specialist investigation.
"It will create a £1 million annual funding gap, funded from reserves next year, with the removal of the £1 million PCC’s fund. Reserves being used in this way is not sustainable.
“Reducing the budget could be seen as a victimless crime, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
She said those that suffered were the victims of rape, child exploitation, drug-related crime, burglary and knife crime.
Sedgemoor’s Councillor Janet Keen took exception to her comments.
Ms Mountstevens said she did not want to insult the panel but said: “The message I’m trying to get across is that cuts have consequences.
"Any reduction in resources going into the constabulary is going to make a difference.”
She said the panel’s veto – their only opportunity to influence the budget earlier this month – had damaged staff morale and left them disappointed when the £15 increase was backed by all other police and crime panels. Only better funded forces asked for a smaller increase.
The PCC said the force was determined to reinstate Operation Bluestone with 90 officers to improve the number of sexual offence convictions.
Each local authority area will get an Operation Remedy team to tackle burglaries, drugs and knife crime, along with new facilities to manage offenders.
North Somerset’s Cllr Roz Willis said she had vetoed the first budget to protect residents “devastated” over the last year after losing their homes, jobs and loved ones. She said she would not be “guilt tripped” but voted to approve the revised budget.
Bath and North East Somerset’s Cllr Andy Wait said: “In the past year we [B&NES Council] have had to make £10 million of savings and take £11 million from reserves because our income has been devastated.
"B&NES Council’s position is far worse than the police.”
Speaking ahead of the veto he said he could see no reason why the police should be given a greater increase than any other public body.
The panel voted to approve the revised budget, with one member abstaining.
The rise of £13.39 – 5.88 per cent – will see the average band D property pay the police £241.20 in 2021/22.
Most councils have increased their budgets by nearly five per cent, asking for up to £90 more, while Avon Fire Authority last week approved an increase of £1.49.