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Covid-Caused Council Tax Shortages Leave Surrey Police Facing £5m ‘Black Hole’

Published on: 16 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 18 Sep, 2020

PCC David Munro

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey Police funding could be cut by £5 million because councils are struggling to collect council tax from people hit financially by coronavirus, the county council’s Police and Crime Panel was told yesterday (September 15).

The force’s finances had been recovering with this year’s government grant, the biggest increase since 2010.

Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro said: “Like many others, I thought this settlement marked a change in funding for the police after years of austerity.

“But it is highly likely after only one year of stability the force may again have to make quite substantial savings to balance its budget.

“Such savings will be challenging, given the efficiencies already achieved, without impacting services.”

Although the losses can be spread over three years, Mr Munro said, the force has had to spend £2.3 million on PPE and has not had a penny back yet from government.

They had agreed to reimburse the cost of PPE but recently informed the force this would be for only “medical grade” equipment.

The Police and Crime Panel is asking the government to help meet the unexpected costs of the pandemic.

Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley), lead for Resources and Finance at Guildford Borough Council, said: “Council tax collection has fallen in the pandemic and we have an increase in council tax support claims [but] we are also able to spread any deficit over the next three financial years.

“At the start of the pandemic, we gave existing council tax support recipients a further discount of £150 on their 2020-21 bill, as well as short-term discretionary payments to some facing economic challenges.”

Mr Munro went on: “All local authorities are in the same boat. Any shortfall in the collection tax should be handed back via central taxation.”

Police have also had to pay staff overtime to assist with public compliance, a burden that can only worsen with the new rule of six.

The force has also lost expected income of £500,000 from policing events which have been cancelled, such as the Epsom Derby, and training dogs for other forces.

Surrey council tax-payers are charged some of the highest proportion of police costs in England’s counties, £270 for the average band in 2020/21, an increase of £10 on last year.

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