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Monday, April 22, 2024

Northumbria Police precept hiked to maximum: Commissioner McGuinness defends move to salvage force amidst criticism

Council tax bill hike to 'rescue' Northumbria Police from multi-million pound cuts signed off

The portion of council tax bills used to generate extra funds for Northumbria Police will increase by the maximum amount permitted.

Councillors have signed off on plans from police commissioner Kim McGuinness to up the police precept for households in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland by 7.7%.

That equates to a rise of £13 per year for Band D homes, which is the maximum level allowed by the Government, or £8.67 for Band A properties, which make up the largest share of homes in the Northumbria force area.

Ms McGuinness has warned that the uplift was needed to “rescue” the force and that freezing it at its current level would have resulted in budget cuts of £4.2 million, the equivalent of 113 job losses.

She has also pledged that the extra cash will be used to explore the reopening of some police stations that have been closed down, to launch a region-wide unit dedicated to tackling anti-social behaviour involving motorbikes, and to hire more investigators.

Kim McGuinness Image: LDRS

The Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, who is also the Labour Party’s candidate for North East mayor, said: “Northumbria Police has not received any extra funds from Government to cover the impact of rising bills. We’re being forced to find much needed finances elsewhere, in part, by asking local residents.

“Fortunately, the majority have been supportive, acknowledging the pressures and the need for investment. I am also very understanding of those who weren’t in favour – whose family budgets are tight enough and who don’t believe money to rescue a public service should be coming from their purse. I get that completely and I wish I had more choice on the matter.

“While I know the precept rise is right decision, it’s a decision I make reluctantly especially as so many are facing their own financial struggles, particularly in our region. At the same time, people want to see more officers out on the streets, they want more staff investigating crime, they want even more done to tackle motorbike disorder – and we now have the green light to deliver all this to help fight crime in our region.”

The precept rise, which is expected to generate an extra £5.4 million, was signed off by members of the Northumbria Police and Crime Panel on Tuesday morning, following a three-week public consultation.

A report to the panel states that, of almost 2,000 residents surveyed, 71% supported a rise in the precept and 62% were in favour of it increasing by the maximum amount.

Ms McGuinness recently faced criticism from Tory councillors in Northumberland, including mayoral election rival Guy Renner-Thompson, over her precept increases.

She said on Tuesday: “There are going to be some politicians who criticise me for investing in the force. They will try and convince you that it would be easy to avoid this choice. It’s not.

“Then option before us is either to make cuts worth 113 job losses at Northumbria Police or a small increase to allow us to save jobs and expand crime fighting squads. I’m proud to stand by those officers and to give them the resources today to fight crime tomorrow.”

Cllr Gordon Stewart Image: Northumberland Council

Gordon Stewart, a Conservative councillor in Northumberland, said he welcomed the prospect of police stations reopening but questioned “why the rethink has now taken place when no real consultation was made with the public when the decision was made to close them and relocate local staff”.

He said he was originally told that the facilities were closed as the public was not using them on a regular enough basis.

Cllr Stewart, a member of the county council’s cabinet, also asked for urgent action to review the police’s property estate, citing abandoned houses located next to the Hexham police station as an area that “could be used for much-needed social housing and release the burden upon the taxpayers”.

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