Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Fiscal Fixing

Further to my post of last Friday, when I noted the threat of capping of the Surrey Police Authority by the government, I can now attach a letter from the Chief Constable of Surrey Police to the Minister of State, Tony McNulty MP. This was sent on 23rd January, many weeks before the public attention we're now seeing.

But before some quotes, a few thoughts - income tax, council tax, benefits, in fact anything regarding government finance is never as black or white as it may at first seem. Reading the Chief Constable's letter, makes me ponder over a particular aspect of government funds - that of something that I shall call 'historical-fiscal injustice'. It's the reality that present day income is dependent on the appropriate and forward-thinking (or not) decision of yesteryear.

Of course, it's not the only reason that funds become inadequate, but it's part of it. The difficulty, or sometimes the inability to look to the future and know what resources are required, means that funding (tax) increases may lag further and further behind what is needed, especially when there is a cap of 5%.

And that's the rub - if in one year, there is a clear and present need for more money, a cap on any increase does not provide any kind of flexibility in raising it. Perhaps there's be some good headlines for the government in declaring how it is protecting the voters' interests, but more than likely it will do the opposite, by condemning the residents of Surrey to future years (not just this one), of inadequately resourced policing.

Here's a few excerpts from the letter:

I am writing in unprecedented terms to express my professional concerns about the risks to public safety of people in Surrey over the next three to five years, if our funding position is not resolved urgently. Given the inadequacies of the current funding formula in failing to take account of cross border criminality and protective services risks which are disproportionately affecting Surrey, I request you give urgent consideration of a special grant for the next CSR 3-year period.

I have serious concerns about the Force's ability to effectively meet the escalating risks facing the Force in the future. My judgement is based on a comprehensive analysis of the nature of the policing threat facing the Force now and over the next three to five years. This assessment shows serious changes in offending patterns and protective services risk profiles. We are about to hit the tipping point where the majority of burglary, vehicle crime and robbery come from travelling offenders visiting Surrey from neighbouring high crime generating areas including London (currently at 46%).

It is operationally indefensible that Surrey should receive the same level of funding as rural forces located well away from the effects of large urban centres or indeed the Capital. This is of particular concern given that the county makes a greater net contribution to the exchequer than any other county (£5.3bn).

It is for these reasons that I am seeking a special grant for Surrey for the forthcoming CSR period for a total of £54 million (i.e. £18 million / year for 3 years), which will take us to the regional average grant of £106/head* and a commitment that the funding formula will be reviewed to develop a formula capable of matching resources to risks.

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