I have made it clear that Lincolnshire’s police are grossly underfunded so I have started to do something about it. With the support of broadcaster and former Independent MP, Martin Bell I have brought together other Independent candidates from rural police forces elsewhere in England and Wales and am challenging the Government about the way they fund rural police forces like Lincolnshire. We presented a letter of protest to David Cameron earlier today. A copy of that letter is here. Letter to No10 (pdf format file size 258k)
It is a myth that our grant is low because the crime rates are low; they are not. Excluding London they are on a par with much of the rest of the country and for burglary and shoplifting one of the highest of all the shire counties and yet we have fewer officers per head of population than any other part of the country. We have 1.65 officers per 1000 population whilst the national average is over 50% higher. Just look at the south east. Kent, Herts, Essex, Sussex and Surrey have on average a 6% lower crime rate than Lincolnshire but 18% more police per head of population. You would think that with all these extra police their council tax would be high. Not at all, to make matters worse their grants from central government are so high that their council tax is around 25% lower. OUR taxes are paying for their higher policing levels and to add insult to injury keeping their council tax bills down.
I am experienced in public sector finance and have led national negotiating teams which gives me a unique perspective on the issue. Looking at the way we in Lincolnshire are treated in a complicated formula I have assessed a shortfall of well over £7m p.a; enough for around another 130 police officers with back up and support.
I know we have to have cuts but we should at least all be starting from a fair position and we are not.
What I have done is bring together other rural areas, which are also poorly funded, such as Dorset, Cumbria and North Wales to lobby and work together. I very much hope to build broad support for action throughout the county as well and hope that politicians from all parties will support the campaign. Our conservative led police authority has not been able to make progress in this area; we need a different approach of very strong leadership working in the county but also with like minded forces elsewhere. I can and will provide that strong leadership.
Contrast my approach with how the politically led police authority have handled issues of funding.
As I said earlier this week it’s been argued for years the police funding formula doesn’t take into account the increased costs of policing such a large and rural county as Lincolnshire. So if you were a member of the police authority and the government came along and said ‘we are going to abolish the Police Rural Grant’, one of the few elements of the complex system of finance designed to help rural areas, you would expect to make a bit of a fuss; especially as the government intended to add this ‘rural focused’ grant into the general grants pot and then re-distribute that grant to all police authorities, rural or not.
I don’t recall any fuss being created by the Lincolnshire Police Authority when this happened. Perhaps it was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten? No, the change was in 2011. Perhaps it was not for a lot of money then? No, it will lead to a loss of over £1.8m a year equivalent to over 40 officers. It is embarrassing for my conservative opponent in these elections, Richard Davies, that he was a member of the Police Authority at the time.
As well as failing to recognise the costs of providing services in rural areas the current funding arrangements give great weight to urban deprivation and do not reflect rural deprivation, a point of concern over the past 15 years. In Lincolnshire there is a further issue that remains unrecognised and therefore unfunded. There is a high proportion of unregistered population on the coast both in terms of ‘visitors’ to the seaside and the immigrant population that works mostly in our agricultural industries. The result of this is that costs of services go up but council tax income and grants do not.
Martin Bell has told me:
“It would not be in the public interest for our police forces to fall under the control and influence of party politicians. That is why it is important that so many well-qualified Independents are putting themselves forward as PCC candidates for the elections in November. It is also encouraging that, as in this initiative on rural policing, they are cooperating with each other.”
So take interest, its your police force – support the campaign and the petition which will be launched soon with our colleagues from other rural areas up and down the country.