Hundreds more Sussex Police staff to be hired with extra council tax cash

Sussex Police
Sussex Police

An extra £16million raised from council tax will help Sussex Police to hire 200 more staff.

A 14.5 per cent rise in the police precept will mean an extra £24 a year for the average Band D household from April.

At a police and crime panel meeting today, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said the increase would lead to more PCSOs and police officers working for the force as well as the hiring of more specialist staff at the Sussex Police contact centre.

Large caseloads for police

Mrs Bourne said: “[Sussex Police] record on an average 24 hour-period, 979 total incidents of which 313 are crimes.

“If we look into those crimes, 104 on average are violence against the person, 67 are thefts, 36 are criminal damage and four are serious sexual offences. Rape. Four every day in Sussex.

“Let us just reflect on those numbers because this is new business coming in every day. This isn’t something that can just be dealt with and then shelved, because a crime when it comes in can take weeks of intelligence and investigation.

“This is new business coming in to the force every single day, on top of the business that came in yesterday and on top of the business that came in the day before.

“These are the sorts of caseload Sussex Police are currently covering.”

Mrs Bourne said the chief constable had requested the additional funding to hire 50 new police officers to reduce the pressure on serving officers and hiring 100 new PCSOs to improve neighbourhood policing.

This would be on top of the 200 additional police officers the force aims to hire over by March 2022.

During discussion, panel members spoke of their support to increase officer numbers but raised concerns about the pressure of raising council tax bills to residents.

Council tax rise ‘enormous increase for residents to absorb’

Michael Jones (Lab), from Crawley Borough Council, said: “It is very nice to see the commissioner has now been converted to the need for officers and there is now, at least, a recognition that a lack of police has unquestionably had an impact on level on criminality.

“While I will be supporting this budget, £24 – or 14 and a half per cent – is an enormous increase for residents to absorb.

“Indeed commissioner, isn’t what this Tory government is doing actually making Sussex residents pay twice for the policing they should be receiving?

“The Government’s focus has been on pushing the cost of policing from income tax, which taxes those who can afford to pay more, on to council tax, which isn’t means tested.

“Doesn’t this mean that pensioners and workers on low wages are increasingly been asked to pay up instead of the wealthiest?”

In response, Mrs Bourne said raising the precept by £24 was ‘not a decision I take lightly’ but highlighted how 75 per cent of properties within Sussex were either Band D (the national average) or below, meaning many would pay less than the £24 average increase.

She also said the Sussex Police precept is currently the fifth lowest in England and Wales while also receiving one of the lowest government grants in the country.

Training new officers

Concerns were also raised about the speed of training the new officers and whether the hiring process could outstrip attrition – the loss of experienced officers to retirement, resignation and sickness. 

East Sussex county councillor Carolyn Lambert (Lib Dem) said: “Commissioner you have referred to an ‘unprecedented’ intake of officers, which is something I think we would all agree is something our residents want.

“But you also talked about the pressures on HR and in particular training. Training of police officers is quite a technical matter and does take time.

“That therefore clearly has an impact on the speedy implementation of what I think we all want to see.

“What consideration have you given to working collaboratively with you partners in neighbouring police authorities to give additional resilience to your own training?”

In response, Mrs Bourne said it would be challenging to get other forces to assist as they would be under their own pressures.

However she also highlighted the support on recruitment the force has received from Surrey Police, with which it shares a HR director.

She also acknowledged that filling the posts and training officers quickly would be challenging due to the high bar for entry.

While the panel does not, strictly speaking, have the power to approve and set the level of police precept, it can veto any increases it considers to be inappropriate.

Following discussion, however, the panel agreed to support Mrs Bourne’s proposals.

Afterwards, she said: “I have been lobbying hard to secure the best possible funding arrangements for policing. I am pleased that the Panel has supported my decision to increase the police precept by its maximum for 2019/20, taking full advantage of the flexibility provided by government.

“I recognise that any increase in taxation at any level will be challenging for some of our residents and this is not a decision I have taken lightly. However, I believe it’s the right one to further strengthen local policing and to enable the chief constable to focus his resources in the areas that the public tell me matter most to them.

“Following the precept rise last year and money from reserves, Sussex Police has already embarked on its biggest recruitment programme for ten years, protecting 476 posts under threat and recruiting 270 police officers. Sussex residents have told me that they welcome this but also say they want to see PCSOs back in communities, more police on our roads and a better 101 service.

“I am pleased that the panel have recognised that I have listened intently to what Sussex residents want and what the chief constable needs. With their support, we are now able to take this unique opportunity to recruit even more officers and invest in an all round better service.”

If you missed the panel meeting today you can watch it here or if you have any questions about the policing precept you can see the PCC’s answers to the most frequently asked questions or submit your own question.

The PCC has also published the results of her online survey and focus groups.