Jobs fear over difficult police budget

SUFFOLK'S police authority faces setting its "most difficult budget in recent times" for the coming year – and jobs could go as the organisation tries to save around £6 million.

SUFFOLK'S police authority faces setting its "most difficult budget in recent times" for the coming year – and jobs could go as the organisation tries to save around £6 million.

Christine Laverock, Suffolk Police Authority chairman, said Government funding is expected to be inadequate for the financial year 2005/2006.

But, while the authority has always been able to increase its part of the council tax precept to account for the shortfall, this year the threat of capping looms large.

Mrs Laverock said: "In Suffolk in the past, if we had insufficient money from the Government we consulted the public about the shortfall to check they were in agreement with raising the council tax precept, which we have been able to do.

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"The difficulty we've got this year is that, over the past 12 months, the Government capped three police authorities for their increases in the council tax precept.

"Therefore we are not so free as we have been in the past to raise money locally, without running the risk of being capped.

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"What we don't want to do is see a reduction in services to the public. It's going to be a really difficult budget to balance – the most difficult budget to plan for in recent times."

Mrs Laverock said the first step in finding the multi-million pound savings would be to examine the county's reserves, pensions budget and capital programme.

But the problem is likely to run deeper than that – and police jobs are already under review in the search for savings.

"The Chief Constable has already been holding vacancies because we are in a difficult position," Mrs Laverock added.

"He has done three things. Firstly, he has held all vacancies and reviewed each post to decide if it really has to be filled.

"Secondly was a review of all police and police staff to see if there could be any savings made there.

"Finally there was a review of the finances, to see if there could be savings made there as well.

"We are also lobbying the Government for additional funding. The problem starts because every year we are told that we have to do more and more new things.

The authority set a council tax precept rise of 9.5 per cent last year – a significant reduction on the 33 pc increase of the year before – but may be forced to lower that again next year.

Mrs Laverock said: "At the moment the Government are talking about inflationary increases on council tax so we are looking at lower than that (nine pc).

"Last year we did a MORI poll and we had a high proportion of people supporting increases of up to 15pc on the precept for services.

"Now we have the dilemma of where we may have public support but we are not free to raise that money because we might get capped.

"Then that means our budget would be set at a very low level for next year and beyond – and then we really are in a very difficult position.

"We feel very powerless really. We've got a very high-performing force and the last thing we want is to see that performance reduced."

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