Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Tony Hogg has defended his newly-revealed draft plans to raise council tax as a small price to pay to keep more bobbies on the beat.
Budget proposals released by the PCC office on Thursday called for a 2% rise in the policing share of council tax bills in order to keep officer numbers at around 3,000.
Yesterday the newly-elected Conservative PCC for Devon and Cornwall spoke about the plans publicly for the first time describing them as “prudent budgeting”.
Mr Hogg will next week ask the police and crime panel to approve his plan to reverse a damaging decline which had been blamed for a rise in crime.
He argued that asking residents in a Band D property to pay around six pence per week extra would halt a drop in numbers to policing levels not seen since the 1980s.
“With a year’s campaigning behind me I am only too aware that the single most important issue is having visibility of police officers,” he told the Western Morning News.
“I realise that many families are suffering hardship but six pence per week is not a lot to ask to halt the decline.
“Anything less than this figure is going to make it hard to maintain neighbourhood teams, particularly in rural areas.
It is my proposal to increase the precept by around £3 per year to help us hold up the baseline and enable us to sustain those numbers.
“It is important to remember that if we go above 2% we need a referendum, which would cost more than £1 million.”
Mr Hogg was speaking at a symposium at Westpoint, near Exeter, organised to tackle a rising rural crime wave.
He explained that his financial plan had been made possible by a better-than-expected Government grant in December, fewer voluntary redundancies than expected and a better use of reserves, he added.
However, he said the fix may only hold for the “short-term” as the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2015 “looked very threatening”.
“It could last for a year or two or three by recruiting more officers each year – anything below 3,000 will leave us terribly thin on the ground.
“We must protect numbers in the short term then look to the future and take the safest most intelligent approach.”
Landowners, farmers, businesses and police officers had gathered at the Devon show ground to share information on how to combat crimes unique to the countryside, such as the theft of livestock, tractors, tools and quad bikes. Latest figures from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Mutual rural crime survey show the cost of rural crime rose 6% to more than £53m, including an estimated £7.6 million in the South West.
In Devon, tools, quad bikes, and metals were identified as the items most commonly targeted by thieves.
The rising number of tractor thefts in the greater South West region peaked in 2010 with 347 tractors taken, at a cost of £1.7m stolen, the NFU said.
This dropped in 2011 and early results for last year show thefts are down by a third.
Assistant chief constable Paul Netherton, who spoke at the event along with NFU Vice-president Adam Quinney, said problems of alcohol-related violence and domestic abuse affected country communities and urban areas equally.
He added: “We do experience a unique situation down here and do have gangs coming down and stealing hi-value tractors and quad bikes.
“The police are putting efforts into helping the community protect themselves and let them know what we are doing.”
The High Sheriff of Devon, auctioneer Robin Barlow, said: people needed to “stand up to the challenge” and work with the police to “forge links”.
NFU Mutual spokesman Tim Price said a £300,000 Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service scheme had disrupted criminal gangs, recovering 22 stolen tractors last year.