Despite hard pressed taxpayers already struggling with hefty bills, Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins has asked for a mammoth 15.84 % increase in the policing precept for 2015/16 - part of the council tax bill. Astonishingly, this is an amount that he describes as ‘modest’. The poorest households, already hit hard by council tax, may not be inclined to agree. If successful, this tax hike would add an additional £4.5 million to Bedfordshire Police - the equivalent of 21% of all its funding.
In accordance with the Local Government Finance Act, councils who want to raise tax by more than 1.99% need to hold a local referendum in the hope to convince the taxpayer that this increase will result in value for money. In this case, Mr Martins is attempting to entice voters by suggesting the colossal £4.5 million raised will account for 100 police officers. It is already clear that voters of Bedfordshire are not convinced. A YouGov poll commissioned by Martins himself has demonstrated that 70% of residents will reject the planned rise. Would you expect anything less?
Coupled with this overwhelming resistance to the tax hike is the absurd price tag attached to the referendum. A ‘yes’ vote would cost £350,000 and a ‘no’ vote would total at £600,000 due to the issuing of fresh bills and a tax recalculation on the basis of a 1.99% increase - a gross misuse of precious council funds.
However, once again councils seem determined to disregard the weighty burden on taxpayers’ and Mr Martins has received permission from the police and crime panel to go ahead with the referendum next month. There simply cannot be a reward for failure, councils must reduce the waste to improve the service rather than hiking up the bills. Evidence from our Town Hall Rich List alone exposed eight Bedfordshire council employees earning more than £100,000 in the year 2012-13. Bedford’s new bus station which opened earlier this month cost £8.8 million. Looks like Bedfordshire council should have insisted the police demonstrate savings before they ask the taxpayer to dig deeper into their pocket.