Surveillance costs add to tax bills

CCTV and DNA advances add to bills but minister calls rises unacceptable

A Times/Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy survey of more than 250 authorities shows that the average council tax is expected to rise by 3.9 per cent in April. This masks a mixed picture across the country with 92 councils setting rises above 4 per cent and 12 above 5 per cent.

But police precepts – the element of tax bills for police services – have been responsible for boosting many overall council tax rises to more than 5 per per cent, the level at which they can be capped.

Lincolnshire Police Authority decided last night on a whopping 79 per cent increase, boosting household bills by more than £100 a year on its element alone, and 12 other police authorities, almost one in three, have decided on increases of more than 5 per cent.

John Healey, the Local Government Minister, said last night that any authority, including police and fire, proposing increases of more than 5 per cent risked being capped. He made clear that Lincolnshire’s proposal was unacceptable.

The police authority insisted that its increase was necessary to save the jobs of hundreds of staff and plug a £6 million shortfall in finances.

The Assocation of Police Authorities said that new demands on policing including CCTV, setting up automatic number plate registration and processing DNA sampling had led to spiralling costs for police forces. “With new technology and forensics there’s more of it available now, and it’s costing more,” said Bob Jones, chairman of the association. “As the challenge has become more sophisticated, we have a very substantial increase in costs.”

Mr Jones pointed to the updating and expanding of the DNA database and the costs of surveying CCTV evidence. “Look at investigations like the London bombings, or the Suffolk murders. The amount of processing of the CCTV footage costs so much. Ten years ago there would not have been anything to look at,” he said.

The 3.9 per cent increase across the country, the lowest for ten years, includes geographical variations, with the West Country and the South East tending to have higher rises and Greater London the lowest. Although 267 councils out of 380 provided figures for their proposed rises, only 150 had their rises confirmed by last night and have been included in the table. A further 30 London authorities, some of which still have to agree rises, have also been included.

Ken Livingstone has tried to improve his chances of being re-elected as Mayor of London by trying to secure low rises in the capital. The survey shows that in inner London the average increase is only 2 per cent while in outer boroughs it is 3.1 per cent.

Part of the reason is a Greater London Authority precept of just 2 per cent, almost two thirds lower than the previous two years.

But he has also been helped by the increasing number of Tory councils keen to keep taxes as low as possible. For the second year running Hammersmith has come in with a cut of 3 per cent (minus 1.74 per cent once the GLA precept is included) with Westminster, Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea and Hounslow also proposing freezes in council tax bills. Hackney, a Labour council, has frozen its bill though there will be a small increase due to the GLA precept.

Leicester City Council has set the highest rise in the country (6.2 per cent) although the council leader blames the police authority for boosting the bill to higher than 5 per cent.

The pattern is mixed across the country but there is some evidence that increasing emphasis on efficiency has kept rises to low single figures.

The survey shows that of the 16 authorities with rises below 1 per cent, eight are Conservative, three are Labour, one is Liberal Democrat and four have no overall control. But of the 92 with rises over 4 per cent, 59 are Conservative, 6 Labour, 6 Liberal Democrat, and 19 NOC and 2 other.

Tim Brain, finance head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the Government was increasing demands to fight terrorism and appoint more community officers but was not providing the necessary funds.

POLICE AUTHORITY
(% Change | Band D 2008-09 £)

Avon & Somerset 4.9 154.32
Bedfordshire 9.6 135.28
Cambridgeshire
5.0 156.87
Cumbria 4.9 179.46
Derbyshire 4.6 148.44
Dorset 4.9 164.25
Dyfed-Powys 5.0 165.51
Essex 4.9 122.22
Gloucestershire 5.0 188.45
Gtr Manchester 7.5 124.90
Hampshire 8.1 135.54
Hertfordshire 5.0 136.67
Humberside 4.5 156.31 Kent 5.0 128.25
Lancashire 7.9 135.96
Leicestershire 15.4 160.40
Lincolnshire
78.9 n/a
Norfolk 8.3 178.56
North Wales 4.5 186.18
Northumbria 4.9 78.27
Nottinghamshire
4.9 145.62
South Wales 5.0 139.38
South Yorkshire 4.7 124.56
Staffordshire 3.8 166.16
Suffolk 9.0 149.67
Surrey 9.7 187.92
Sussex 4.9 128.70
Thames Valley 4.0 144.76
Warwickshire 12.9 164.68
West Mercia 4.9 165.45
West Midlands 3.5 94.67
Wiltshire 4.3 145.34