Rise in cost of police services confirmed - and fire charge is set to rise. Lower grants from central government play large part

By Ted Peskett - Local Democracy Reporter

7th Feb 2024 | Local News

The amount people pay for policing in parts of South Wales will increase by more than 8% – or £2.35 a month next year for some.

And costs for firte services are also set to rise.

The police and crime commissioner for South Wales Police Alun Michael put forward precept and budget proposals for 2024/2025 which were unanimously approved by the South Wales police and crime panel.

It will see an increase in the precept of 8.69% and a band D property pay £2.35 more a month as the force faces a budget gap of more than £16m for next year.

The proposals will see a £2.09 increase per month for a band C, a £1.83 increase per month for a band B and a £1.57 increase per month for a band A.

With 68% of households in the South Wales Police area being below band D, most households will pay between 36 pence and 48 pence extra a week.

A band D taxpayer in South Wales currently pays £8.62 less than a council tax payer in North Wales but pays 0.2% above the Welsh average precept.

The proposals means council tax payers in the South Wales Police area will pay this much in their police precept next year:

  • Band A would pay £235.11
  • Band B would pay £274.30
  • Band C would pay £313.48
  • Band D would pay £352.67
  • Band E would pay £431.04
  • Band F would pay £509.41
  • Band G would pay £587.78
  • Band H would pay £705.34
  • Band I would pay £822.90

The report said that the increase in the precept proposed is "at the lowest level that will allow South Wales Police to maintain the high quality service it provides to the communities of South Wales."

It also said that most people living in the force area which covers Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Swansea and Vale of Glamorgan will pay less than the extra £2.35 for Band D households.

The report said that the proposals would enable the police to maintain PCSO numbers of at least 343 on a stable basis while police officer numbers will be 3,539 (including 165 externally funded) and it said "we are doing all we can to maintain the other police staff numbers because they too play an enormously important role in police service delivery."

In the report Mr Michael said he believes this to be the right decision because even with this rise for 2024/25, council taxpayers in South Wales will be paying around the average police precept when compared with the other Welsh forces and the force will have to find "efficiency savings" of £750,000 per month in order to balance the books.

He said: "The decision has to be seen against a backdrop of the £60 million cut in real terms (£45 million in cash terms) in the annual police grant to South Wales Police from the Home Office compared with 10 years ago as well as the cost-of-living crisis that currently affects individuals and public services.

"This means that cumulatively South Wales Police has lost in the order of £651 million in real terms over the 12 years.

"We also have to take account of the recently announced cuts to Welsh Government funding for PCSOs forced by the shortfall in their budget before setting the precept at a level that will allow South Wales Police to maintain its core focus on neighbourhood policing and community safety arrangements."

He also said that "South Wales Police is estimated to have delivered nearly £1 billion of community benefit between 2011 and 2023, a saving to individual members of the public and to the public purse through reduced crime, less harm and greater confidence.

"That figure – based on standard Home Office methodology – is rarely mentioned but is reflected in people's day to day experience and we cannot afford to relax."

Local policing is funded by the police grant from the home office together with contributions directly from the public through council tax known as the police precept.

The precept now accounts for 47% of the money received by South Wales Police for the 2024/2025 budget while it was 34% 10 years ago.

Mr Michael's report said that "setting the precept is made ever more challenging due to the poor financial settlements from central government.

"The home office has failed to maintain the police grant at a level that would enable us to set a modest precept – we are being forced to put a price on the safety of our communities, and ultimately the police budget has to be at a level that enables our officers and staff to keep people safe."

He added that the home office still has not formally recognised the extra cost of policing Cardiff as a capital city so South Wales Police is further "short changed."

He said the additional direct cost has been shown to be some £8 million a year and that they continue to press the home office to meet half of that additional cost via a special grant.

Mr Michael also said that there is a £1.2m shortfall in funding to meet the training costs of new police officers under the Police Education Qualification Framework compared to forces in England which is the equivalent of employing 30 additional PCSOs if they did not have to make up that sum from the rest of their budget.

But he said: "Despite these challenges, South Wales Police continues to give the best possible value for money to our council taxpayers because of the cost-effective management of resources, the chief constable's drive for the highest level of performance and on improving professional standards and the way we have worked with partners on early intervention and prevention of harm and on delivering high-quality neighbourhood policing and community safety."

The report also mentions the inflationary increases in cost that South Wales Police faces in 2024/2025 which is worth £51.8 million before grant funding and also includes provision for a 2.5% staff pay award in 2024, plus non-pay increases.

It said that the grant the force is set to receive in 2024/2025 provides no additional resource for growth, and leaves a gap in government funding of £25.6 million with the £9m in vacancy management leaving a budget gap before precept of £16.6m.

The force's revenue budget for next year is set to be worth more than £386 million with more than £180m coming from the precept and its capital budget is due to be £34.9 million with the use of £7m in capital reserves.

Fire charges also set to rise

The amount paid by residents for fire services in south Wales could go up by more than 7% next year.

Budget proposals set to be considered by the South Wales fire authority on Monday, February 12, would see a 7.23% increase in the budget from this year with it being worth a total of £95.8m.

The report said that this increase assumes that the Welsh Government will transfer additional firefighter pension funding to constituent councils in the final local government settlement in accordance with the practice it started at this stage last year.

It added that without this funding change the underlying like-for-like increase

in the revenue budget would be 5.8%.

The fire authority said it has always been mindful of the resources available to its constituent councils both from Welsh Government and local taxpayers.

The provisional local government funding settlement announced in December included an overall 3.1% increase for Welsh councils.

The report said the impact of the cost of living crisis and problems forecasting pay and price inflation has caused significant turbulence in the last two financial years with the fire authority setting a budget significantly lower than comparable funding increases in local councils in 2022-23 and higher in 2023-24.

It said that cumulatively increases in fire budgets remain lower than the comparative levels in constituent councils over the period.

The report said that £2.5m of reserves will be committed in the current year and a further £1.2m in 2024-25.

If approved each of the 10 councils which are covered by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service would contribute these amounts:

  • Bridgend would contribute £9.08m which is a rise of £565,942 or 6.64%
  • Vale Of Glamorgan would contribute £8.3m which is a rise of £523,809 or 6.73%
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf would contribute £14.8m which is a rise of £922,933 or 6.62%
  • Merthyr Tydfil would contribute £3.6m which is a rise of £186,314 or 5.36%
  • Caerphilly would contribute £10.9m which is a rise of £572,705 or 5.52%
  • Blaenau Gwent would contribute £4.1m which is a rise of £214,331 or 5.42%
  • Torfaen would contribute £5.7m which is a rise of £366,268 or 6.77%
  • Monmouthshire would contribute £5.8m which is a rise of £367,505 or 6.72%
  • Newport would contribute £10.04m which is a rise of £802,209 or 8.68%
  • Cardiff would contribute £23.1m which is a rise of £942,746 or 9.16%

The report said that population changes impact directly on the level of budget contributions from individual councils and that the budget assumes additional grant of £1.266m will transfer into the local government settlement.

Given the current uncertainty of the transfer the authority is being asked to

delegate powers to the treasurer to vary the approved budget if for any

reason additional grant funding for pensions is paid directly to the fire authority.

The capital budget would add up to £16.3m with £7.6m slippage from this year and £8.7m for next year covering things like property, fleet, and ICT.

Some of the considerations the authority has taken into account include pay inflation, pension costs, setting budgets in the absence of confirmation

of central funding for the coming year, the widening of the role of the firefighter, temporary staffing costs, and energy and external contract costs.

They've also considered unavoidable inflationary pressures on budgets like communication systems, ICT, operational equipment and fleet, the capital programme, capital financing costs, and over £2.05m worth of reductions which have been identified with around £250,000 worth of consequential budget increases leading to a net £1.8m budget reduction.

     

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