POLICE in South Yorkshire have been told to draw up a ‘robust’ package of savings to protect the public from a major council tax rise next year amid uncertainty over how the new government will decide to fund expansion plans.

Last year the county’s policing precept - the cash added to council tax bills - soared by 14 per cent as the government relaxed rules to allow the force to raise money locally to finance new officers.

At the time, Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings was clear residents could not afford such increases in future and in the election campaign all parties made it clear they would sanction big expansion plans to counter austerity cuts which saw South Yorkshire lose around 600 officers from the 3,000 serving in 2010.

But there was no clarity, he said, over how those proposals would be financed - with the option of the government either paying from central funds or pushing responsibility onto PCCs to increase their precept to raise the cash locally.

The general election has meant the date for an announcement on how much police will get from the government next year - normally due next week - is now unlikely until January.

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Although funding for the first wave of the 20,000 additional officers promised by the Conservatives is guaranteed for next year, there is no certainty about where extra cash will come from beyond that point.

Dr Billings said: “This year, because of the election, it has muddied the waters and is delaying everything.

“That is quite a serious position to be in. We have been told there will not be any announcement until January, we will be a month later than we would normally be in knowing where the funding is coming from and whether they are including any of the things they are committed to.

“What I have been saying to the police force for some time is I don’t think South Yorkshire can bear big precept increases because we are a poor part of the country.

“If the government don’t back up their commitments, honour them in full, it has implications for the budget here; how much can be picked up by council tax?

“I am saying (to police) you really need to have some robust saving plans in place because you will need them.”

He added his belief was, after a raft of funding announcements, there was a ‘certain scepticism’ about the ability of government to fund all these things once they are in power.

When the government’s funding formula is announced, Dr Billings will have to conduct public consultations as well as getting agreement to his spending plans from South Yorkshire’s four council leaders.

The budget will then have to go before the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, a watchdog body made up largely of councillors which holds the PCC to account.

The budget process is normally conducted to a tight timescale, but this year’s delayed announcement means that will be truncated further.

Provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.