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UPDATE: Panel vetoes Norfolk police precept freeze plan

Stephen Bett Norfolk's new Police and Crime Commissioner ENGANL00120121122145829
Stephen Bett Norfolk's new Police and Crime Commissioner ENGANL00120121122145829

Norfolk’s police and crime panel has vetoed proposals to freeze the amount of council tax given to the county’s force.

The decision, which was taken at a meeting in Norwich this morning, came after nearly two-thirds of county residents backed a tax increase in a public consultation.

The force’s chief constable, Simon Bailey, also broke ranks with police and crime commissioner (PCC) Stephen Bett to call for an increase.

He urged the panel to ask the commissioner to reconsider, arguing that the increase was needed to enable him to invest in areas of rapidly increasing demand.

And he warned that every penny of available funding remained vital, even as senior officers continue to explore how it can work more closely with other police forces and service agencies.

He said: “I’m doing everything in my power to make the force as efficient as it can be. We’re not resting on our laurels.

“But, at some point, that is going to have to give and that is why I need a budget that reflects the demands we’re having to face.”

Mr Bailey presented figures which showed reported levels of domestic violence in Norfolk had roughly doubled in the last five years.

He said there had also been a 48 per cent rise in rape cases during the past year and a 272 per cent increase in the number of child sexual exploitation offences since 2014.

However, since 2010, the force has lost around 350 officers and staff and Mr Bailey said he understood public concerns about police presence.

But he added: “That demand can’t be ignored. If we get that wrong, that’s the constabulary all over the front pages of the newspapers and huge damage to our reputation, which is of the highest standing, so we have to get it right.”

He acknowledged it was the first time he and the commissioner had publicly disagreed, but Mr Bett insisted the pair were “not at loggerheads” over the issue.

However, he said he would have proposed an increase if the government had not decided to protect police budgets in the autumn.

He said: “I believe my record shows that my heart and soul are in policing – but I believe the Government has given me the opportunity to ease the burden a little on the people of Norfolk - and that is what I intend to do.

“I will no doubt be accused of playing politics – however I simply cannot pass up this opportunity, given by the government – to freeze the precept. It has to be the right thing to do.”

But South Norfolk panel member Christopher Kemp said it was a “shame-faced” attempt to attract voters ahead of May’s PCC election.

He said: “It failed when it was tried in local government and it will fail again.”

West Norfolk representative Brian Long, who voted against the veto, said the county already had one of the highest police precepts in the country.

He argued that the commissioner should have proposed a freeze in previous years when central government grants were available to offset the costs.

Following the vote, Mr Bett now has two weeks to prepare a revised proposal to put before the next panel meeting on February 16.

The panel is not able to veto his proposals again, but can ask him to reconsider if they believe the plan is insufficient.

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