CRIME COMMISSIONER: Ron Hogg
CRIME COMMISSIONER: Ron Hogg

DURHAM Police’s crime commissioner has been accused of planning a council tax hike that would hit people in Band D properties harder than the better off or those on benefits who don’t have to pay.

Ron Hogg has proposed a 13.24 per cent increase to police’s share of the council tax. He said this would mean cuts to frontline police officers would be avoided. Mr Hogg said this would mean a rise of £16 a year, or 31p a week, for Band A properties. Speaking at a meeting of Teesdale Action Partnership, Mr Hogg said County Durham and Darlington has a high number of homes in this category.

He was supported by county councillor Heather Smith, who represents the Evenwood Ward, who said this amount was “peanuts” if it meant keeping good quality policing. However, people in Band D would pay £24 a year extra towards their contribution to the police. Added to the bills are contributions to other organisations such as the county council, their parish council and the fire and rescue service.

Toft Hill and Etherley parish councillor Paul Ryman told Mr Hogg: “We hear this more and more times and then you use the threat that if more money isn’t provided, people will get a reduced police service. Maybe it’s a valid argument but we’ve heard it so many times now.

“Have you considered that most people in Band D pay the full council tax themselves. Many Band A properties do not pay their council tax – it’s paid through benefits. And people in Band H, that increase is a drop in the ocean. People in middle – people in Band D – they are the ones affected.”

Teesdale has a far lower number of Band A properties than the rest of the county

According to the 2011 census, Teesdale has 29.1 per cent Band A properties, 23.0 per cent Band B, 16.5 per cent Band C, 14.2 Band D, and 17.3 from E to I. County Durham as a whole has 61.1 per cent band A properties.

Mr Hogg agreed it was an unfair system, saying taxing residents wasn’t the way forward.

He said: “I would like to see 100 per cent funding [for the police] from central government. It’s the government’s responsibility to provide security to citizens. It’s not fair at the moment. It causes me angst asking for these rises.”

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But he said he wasn’t making threats about cutting the number of officers.

“This is how the sums stack up. If we didn’t do this, it would not look pretty at all. We will lose officers,” he said.

Jeff Garfoot, head of finance and commercial services at Durham County Council, said local authorities were facing the same problems. He said: “The government is allowing us to increase council tax by an extra two per cent. It’s government policy to tax locally not nationally. We either pay more tax or we keep reducing services. If we keep reducing services so much, then it becomes dangerous.”

Members of Teesdale Action Partnership had earlier heard how funding from central government had been reduced by 30 per cent in real terms since 2010. Three-quarters of police funding comes this way. In 2010, Durham Police had 1,507 officers – now there are 1,140, said Mr Hogg.

He said increasing the police’s share of council tax by 13 per cent would balance the books but would still not be enough to employ more police officers.

Wendy Greenfield, a member of Teesdale Action Partnership’s board, pointed out that Mr Hogg’s public consultation questionnaire on the council tax rise was wrong.

It refers to all households paying £2 per month extra without explaining the differences between council tax bands. The £2 figure is in fact the extra charge for Band D homes. Mr Hogg said he was campaigning for “fair funding” not involving the need for council tax rises. But county councillor Richard Bell warned demanding this from the government was risky. He said: “Durham is an ‘outstanding force’ and the government may say you can afford to lose money. They may give it to a failing force. Sometimes failure is rewarded.”

Former high sheriff of County Durham Caroline Peacock praised the police’s work, saying she had seen first hand the dedication of staff and outstanding initiatives.