Parish councils reject Beds police boss’s bid for their ‘substantial reserves’

The Bedfordshire Police boss’s round robin letter to parish councils asking for funding for PCSOs, has not gone down well with councillors.

Beds Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kathryn Holloway last week asked town and parish councils to fund the PCSOs after learning they may hold “substantial reserves”.

PCC Kathryn Holloway

PCC Kathryn Holloway

Mrs Holloway wrote to the lowest tier of local government across Bedfordshire, admitting last month’s Government’s settlement – which she lauded as “the greatest achievement of my professional life” – was not enough.

The PCC wrote: “The answer, in your local area, may lie in your hands. I am told by councillors from the three unitary authorities in Bedfordshire that the parishes hold some substantial reserves.

“A PCSO costs £31,200 to fund each year. If your council wishes to consider the funding of such an officer to be dedicated to policing in the local area, subject to agreement, I would be very grateful if you would contact me directly...”

But Cllr Paul Mackin, Mayor of Shefford, said while he had some sympathy for Mrs Holloway’s plight, Shefford had already submitted its precept to Central Bedfordshire Council for the year, and by law was not allowed to have more than six months’ reserves.

“It’s not money that we can magic up,” he said.

Cllr Mackin said Shefford TC had added its voice to a plea for more funding for the police to Government last year.

“We all have some sympathy,” he said, “It’s very poor funding she gets from the Government.”

Shefford had contributed 60% towards funding for a PCSO for the town a few years ago, but pulled it after finding the PCSO was being used to support other areas of the county.

Of the force’s £8m settlement increase announced in December, just £1.4m was provided by the Government for policing, with £1.2m towards the pensions deficit.

The remaining £5.6m is expected to be raised through increasing the police precept of council tax - around £24 a year for a Band D home.

Last year, the PCC bid for a £4.57m emergency bail-out from the Government’s specialist policing grant to tackle soaring gang, gun and knife crime. A Home Office report unveiled by the Sunday Times revealed that knife crime had risen by 86% in Bedfordshire since 2014.

She wrote: “I will be frank: this is not enough, especially to provide an uplift in the villages. I provided evidence to Government in October 2017 that Bedfordshire Police requires some 300 officers and 80 detectives to meet its crime demand in a way that is comparable with other forces facing similar challenges.

“The Government had intended to address the funding of all 43 forces more fundamentally in December 2020, with a promise to put that of Bedfordshire Police on a more sustainable footing permanently.

“I am now learning that this is likely to be delayed by a further year, in all probability because of Brexit and the economic uncertainty that surrounds it.”

This week in a statement Mrs Holloway said: “Nothing would please me more than being able to afford an officer for every community, but I live in the real world where I am not allowed to overspend on the budget. I have pushed this year’s finances to their absolute limit, as well as presiding over a process to scrutinise every officer and item of expenditure in one half of the Force, to be followed by the other, to get to recruitment of 160 Police Constables in this financial year but common sense dictates that, if other areas, particularly in the rural parishes, want a permanent police presence, it has to be funded somehow”.

“The difference between this idea and the hours of a PCSO that some town councils, like Leighton Buzzard and Houghton Regis, have contracted in the past, is that it would not mean sharing a PCSO on the basis of overtime but recruiting one especially”.

The PCC was forced to attend two community meetings in Houghton Regis and Shefford last year after complaints about rising crime in those areas. These meetings had not originally been part of her road-show across the county.

The first parish council to discuss the PCC’s cash request was Leighton-Linslade Town Council on Monday. They rejected offering any financial support.