A 4.95 PER cent increase in the police element of council tax which equates to around the cost of a Pot Noodle a month for an average household has been unanimously supported.
The dehydrated fast food beloved by students current costs about a pound.
Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel agreed the rise of £12.96 a year which will mean an annual cost to a Band property of £274.50 for police services.
Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, who has raised tax by just over £100 a year since she came to office in 2016, said this income from taxpayers combined with an increase in the central government grant and savings of £5.4 million, would allow officer numbers to be maintained at 3,610, the highest ever in the force, and improve public contact.
The Commissioner said she had focused on the things the public told her mattered, like high numbers of visible police and investment in communities by reopening more front enquiry desks at police stations which were closed in the austerity years after 2010.
Desks will open at Exeter, Tavistock, Honiton and Liskeard, bringing the total of additional police stations open to the public to 18.
Ms Hernandez said public confidence in policing nationally was at an “all time low” because of police abusing power in “unimaginable ways”, the judicial system being riddled with delays, and officers distracted from things that really mattered. On top of this there is political uncertainty. It promises to be “a turbulent year” for policing.
But she added that on a local level there had been some great examples of robust policing, staff retention is good and performance is improving, with calls to the highly criticised 101 phone service now being dealt with within 11 minutes on average and a call back facility being well-used.
Presenting a balanced budget to the police and crime panel for 2024/25 she laid out her intentions to spend £9.6 million to help victims and maintain Devon and Cornwall as one of the safest police force areas in the country.
This includes funding “Safer Streets” projects and victim services, and improving road safety.
The panel was told that during 2022/23 nearly 30,000 victims of crime were referred to support services commissioned by Ms Hernandez.
Violent crime, which has increased by 12 per cent since 2019, will be a focus for the force, and in particular violence against women and girls. The commissioner said people had requested money be spent on this for the first time.
Police officers and support staff will get a three per cent pay rise next year and employee pension contributions will increase by just over four per cent to 35 per cent of pay, an increase in cost to Devon and Cornwall of around £7 million. Additional funding for this has been included in the police settlement from the government. Staff costs make up 85 per cent of the police budget.
Councillor Laura Wright (Lab, St Thomas, Exeter) said pay increases should be expected, claiming they had been frozen for many years.
She said students were exempt from paying council tax but there is a lot of student accommodation in Exeter and Plymouth and she questioned whether landlords could pay it as “they all benefit from police services”.
Members said the doubling of council tax on second homes, which many district councils in the county have agreed to come into force in 2025/26, would help the police budget in future.
Cllr Philip Hackett (Ind, Broadheath) said he agreed with the rise, but the public wanted to see more improvements and he wasn’t convinced the 101 services is working yet.
Cllr Sally Hayden (Lab, St Budeaux, Plymouth) said she supported the rise which was necessary to “keep the streets safe”.
“It is the cost of a Pot Noodle a week if you pay council tax over 10 months. It doesn’t sound a lot, but there are many people who are on the threshold of poverty and it’s a struggle so this could be a meal for them once a week.”
Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell said this year would be more about “compassion, common sense and quality” and less about figures, widgets and managing demand.
“We took our eye off quality in my opinion so it became a game of numbers instead of focusing on outcomes for our victims of crime and communities.”
He said 24 new neighbourhood officers would be joining the force this year and that Devon and Cornwall had been the most successful of all forces in increasing their officer numbers during the government’s “uplift” programme with £3.4 million of funding.