Surrey community petitions Prime Minister to back Surrey Police over capping
Community leaders in Surrey turned out in force today to back calls for the Prime Minister to reverse Hazel Blears’ decision to cut the Surrey Police’s budget.
Around 50 local people – including the local MP Jeremy Hunt, councillors and community-leaders joined forces at a meeting in Farnham to throw their weight behind the Surrey Police Authority’s (SPA) fight to challenge cuts that would result in the loss of 50 frontline operational posts.
They agreed to petition the Prime Minister to reverse the capping order, which would cost £1.2m in rebilling to cut the Surrey Police budget by £1.6m.
The audience, at The Old Court House, Farnham was addressed by Chief Constable Mark Rowley and the Authority chairman Peter Williams who explained the implications of the capping decision on the resilience of the Force and Authority, and the severe operational impact it will have, unless the Government decision is reversed.
A letter from Sir Ray Tindle, who runs the Tindle Newspapers Group, will nowbe sent on behalf of all those present at the meeting to Prime Minister Gordon Brown – who yesterday vowed to protect front-line policing from cuts – urging him to personally intervene in the matter. The Authority has also written to the new Communities Secretary, John Denham, and the new Home
Secretary, Alan Johnson requesting urgent meetings.
It was confirmed last month that the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears intended to force Surrey Police Authority to reduce its precept level of Council Tax in 2009/10 and re-bill Surrey residents. This is despite Surrey being one of the most efficient and best-performing forces in the country.
Shahid Malik MP, Minister for Local Government, pledged his commitment to continue with the capping measures during a debate with Surrey MPs in Westminster Hall earlier this week, despite hearing how Surrey Police Authority already has the lowest expenditure per Band D property of any Police Authority in the country – being described by the Audit Commission as ‘providing excellent value for money to the taxpayer’.
This capping and rebilling process will cost £1.2m to carry out to return £1.6m to the taxpayer. This budget reduction is forcing the Chief Constable to cut 35 operational police officer and 15 operational staff posts in addition to the 144 staff posts already lost under an extremely tough budget for 2009/10 – a total of 194.
As part of the fight to get the Government to reverse its decision to cap the Authority, an application for a Judicial Review has now been lodged with the High Court. The Police Authority is awaiting confirmation of a date for this to be heard.
This week, ten Surrey MPs took part in a debate at Westminster, called by Sir Paul Beresford the MP for Mole Valley, during which they were outspoken in their criticism of the plan to inflict the budget cut.
Police Authority Chair Peter Williams said: “It is a sad situation that we have been forced to apply for a Judicial Review but as the Government has repeatedly refused to meet with us to try and resolve the situation in a sensible way that serves the best interests of Surrey, we have been left with no other choice. This decision defies financial logic – it will return less than a penny a day to the average Band D Surrey household, but will result in significant and permanent cuts to the number of police officers protecting their communities. We cannot allow this madness to go unchallenged.
“The Government refuses to explain how capping decisions are made and they refuse to confirm exactly what the capping criteria for the year are until after budgets are set and Council Tax bills sent out. This is not how public services should be run, and this is why we have been forced into this kind of time consuming and costly action.”
Chief Constable Mark Rowley said: “I am immensely grateful to the people who gave up their free time to attend this meeting and support Surrey Police and Surrey Police Authority because they value and have confidence in their local policing and do not want it to deteriorate.
“I am also grateful to Sir Ray Tindle for organising the meeting, which is so important in allowing local people a voice to express their support.
“My duty as Chief Constable is, first and foremost, to keep the public safe and maintain their confidence and trust. A reduction in our budget will erode the service we can deliver to local people, and capping is leading me to cut 50 key operational posts to balance the budget. This is not a step I want to take, and I am relieved that the Authority, and local people, are
fighting these cuts.”
MP Jeremy Hunt said: “People in my constituency have been delighted with the improvements in policing in recent years, particularly neighbourhood policing, which has made a real difference in some of the most challenging areas. It will be an unspeakable tragedy if Surrey Police was rewarded for this success by having to cut back on frontline policing.”
Sir Ray Tindle, who organised the event, said: “We are 100 percent behind the Police Authority and the Chief Constable of Surrey in this fight.”
There has been an overwhelming response to Surrey Police’s plight so far from partner agencies, businesses and the county’s residents. Both the Force and the Authority have received requests from individuals and groups across the county asking what help they can give in support of our challenge.
In addition, a petition on Surrey Police Authority’s website protesting against the Government’s decision to cap the budget has attracted more than 6,000 signatures in the space of two weeks.
Not sure why the petition is not on the Number 10 site.