War of words over police precept rise

Photo Ian Robinson'Police press conference at Lancashire Constabulary headquarters in Hutton'Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw
Photo Ian Robinson'Police press conference at Lancashire Constabulary headquarters in Hutton'Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw
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Lancashire’s Police Commissioner has accused a council leader of ignoring the views of residents by indicating he will vote against any increase in the police precept.

Labour’s Clive Grunshaw is due to present his budget proposals to a Police and Crime Panel on Monday, when he will suggest 73 per cent of Wyre residents are prepared to pay more for policing.

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Council

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Council

But Conservative Coun Peter Gibson has tabled a Notice of Motion ahead of Thursday’s full Wyre Council meeting, asking his fellow councillors to voice their “dismay” at the commissioner’s plans for a council tax increase.

Mr Grunshaw said: “I am disappointed to see that, yet again, Coun Gibson is putting politics above the views of his residents. Before tabling this motion, he and his group had not even seen my budget proposal and the evidence in support of my decision.

“That clearly sets out why increasing the police precept is in the best interests of all Lancashire’s residents if Lancashire Police is to remain a resilient police force, and also details the overwhelming support of Lancashire’s residents for this. Across the county, 74 per cent of residents surveyed have indicated they are willing to pay more and residents in Wyre were no different.

“Unlike Coun Gibson, they understand the difficulties the police force is facing and the importance of paying a small increase, an extra £3 a year, to protect the force’s resilience in the future.”

Around 35 per cent of residents questioned in Wyre said they were willing to pay a two per cent increase, while 38 per cent were prepared to accept a five per cent rise.

Coun Gibson said the results did not match the views of people he had spoken to.

He said: “They think there should be a total council tax freeze at the moment, so I don’t accept that at all.

“It depends on what questions you ask and in what context you do it. The police had an underspend of £5m last year, they have reserves of £27m and there are 74 vacant posts for PCSOs in Lancashire, which this commissioner has said will not be filled - that’s a saving of something like £2m.

“If you say to people ‘given these savings, which are facts, are you happy for your police precept to be increased?’

“I would suggest they would say ‘absolutely not’.

“He has also decided of course along with Lancashire County Council to put £3m into employing 27 social workers in Burnley and Preston.

“If you say to our Wyre residents ‘do you think that’s a good use of the Police Commissioner’s budget?’ they would say ‘no, we want a greater police presence on our streets, not social workers in Burnley and Preston’.”

Lancashire Police’s budget has been cut by £60m, and Mr Grunshaw has to find another £19.9m of savings by 2017/18.

He said: “The Notice of Motion highlights the fact Lancashire Police has reserves, and Coun Gibson will hear on Monday that I plan to maintain those reserves, which is prudent, sensible financial management when you are responsible for an organisation of this size.”

The commissioner also hit out at Coun Gibson’s claims he is not maintaining PCSO levels in the county.

He said: “It has been well-documented Wyre Council made a decision to withdraw its part-funding for PCSOs last year, which is regrettable and has impacted on PCSO numbers in the borough.

“However, county-wide I have stressed my commitment to maintaining PCSO numbers and I am continuing to ring-fence that money this year.

“If councils agree to continue their part-funding, then my office will match that. Fully-funded PCSOs will be maintained at 335, with all vacancies being filled, and it is the decision of the chief constable where they are deployed based on risk, threat and harm.”

Wyre Council axed its funding for PCSOs last March, after Coun Gibson branded the contributions “totally unfair”.

The council had spent more than £1m since 2006, part-funding 11 officers in the borough, including two at Garstang, alongside 13 fully funded by the police. This compared with 18 fully police-funded officers based in Fylde.

There is now one PCSO John Holland covering Garstang and surrounding villages from Barton to Forton. PCSO Terry Molloy is responsible for villages Over Wyre.

Coun Gibson said: “I sat in a meeting at the Police and Crime Panel in July in Blackpool where the commissioner and the chief constable said there were 74 vacancies in Lancashire and they had no intention of filling them.

“If he is saying something different now, it’s in total contrast to what was said then.”