Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley has decided to propose a 1.99% increase in the police share of council tax for the coming year. The decision follows extensive consultation with local residents on their views on a referendum for a larger increase of 24%.
Kevin Hurley said:
“One of my six priorities as Police and Crime Commissioner is to give local people a greater say in how they are policed. From the beginning of my research into the idea of a referendum on a significant increase in the police share of council tax to mitigate against continued funding cuts and allow us to invest in better policing, I said that it would be the views of the public that would make the decision. It is their money and their police force. A referendum would cost over £1m to hold and I would not put that money on the line if I was not certain that a majority of residents would support the proposed increase.
“Having surveyed and spoken to thousands of people over the last few months, it is clear that, whilst there is a consistent level of support from around a third of residents for paying a significantly bigger amount towards policing in their council tax, the majority view remains against that decision and instead in favour of the smaller increase of 1.99%. That has made my final decision on our budget proposals very simple. I’m grateful to everyone who has taken the time to have a say.
Referendum legislation hinders not helps
“The process of talking to the public about this major budget decision and looking into the referendum idea has revealed an untapped appetite for direct democratic engagement amongst Surrey people. We found that, whilst ultimately people were not in support of the 24% tax proposal, there has been real enthusiasm for the public having a say. A large majority of the people we surveyed were in favour of the idea of a referendum to put the decision in their hands.
“That tells me that there are some really exciting opportunities to be had for invigorating our local democracy. Yet we have found that the legislation currently in place for a referendum on council tax hinders rather than encourages that process. In my view this legislation was hurriedly constructed to put a restriction on authorities’ ability to raise their council tax rather than to encourage local democracy. In light of what we have learned over the last few months, I will be making contact with the Department for Communities and Local Government with a view to looking at how we could make referendums cheaper and simpler to hold, to make it easier to give the public a direct say on local issues.
Funding battle continues
“Money is the biggest issue facing Surrey Police. From my first day in office I have been lobbying Government to either protect service levels by merging forces or if not, to provide more funding to where it is most needed. We receive the second lowest level of funding per head of population in the country and independent analysis shows that we’re losing out on as much as £6m government funding every year that we need to keep the county safe. Cuts are happening to our budget that will mean fewer officers and staff in Surrey in the years ahead. I am going to keep the pressure up to get what we need for policing via our local MPs and direct with Government Ministers. I’m also going to be continuing my conversations with residents and if support builds, it may well be the case that I look again at the referendum idea next year. I remain absolutely of the view that policing needs more investment to evolve to face the threats of today and tomorrow and that is not going to change.”