Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
We are weeks away from the final spring budget before a general election later this year; predictions, demands and forecasts appear daily in national media. Although less headline-grabbing, local taxation is on the minds of every local councillor and, yes, police and crime commissioner.
As PCC, I have a statutory duty to consult residents on the policing precept – the part of council tax that goes towards the force budget. It is not a referendum and the result is not binding, but it does form an important part of my decision-making process each year, and my Chief Constable knows that I do not take the support of Surrey’s residents for granted.
It is one reason why together we recently completed 22 community meetings: to communicate the Chief’s new plan for policing in Surrey, be open about the challenges we face, and to give the community a chance to ask their own questions.
Given the economic backdrop, high cost of living, and assumptions that the public will only ever support lower taxation, it should have been surprising that the majority of those who completed the consultation in Surrey opted for the higher increases.
Why would local council tax-payers opt to pay even more towards a public service most hope to never directly engage with?
As Conservatives we should know that more money isn’t the answer to every problem and that it doesn’t always lead to better services or outcomes or to greater accountability.
A judge recently ruled that the knife attacks in Nottingham early one morning last summer were committed by a man who had, a few years before, been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and was still gripped by it when he carried out those attacks, murdering three people and seriously injuring others.
Whether or not it was right that he was sentenced under the mitigation of diminished responsibility is now a matter for the Attorney General, but what stood out for me was reaction from the two public services involved.
Ahead of the sentencing (Calocane admitted to manslaughter) a named senior officer from Nottinghamshire Police admitted publicly that the Force “could have done more” in relation to an outstanding warrant for Calocane’s arrest following his failure to attend an earlier court hearing. Even if they had, it is unlikely given the minor charge he faced that it would have resulted in a custodial sentence.
We learnt during the trial that the attacker did not in fact have a criminal record, but that he had been in touch over a number of years with NHS mental health services. According to psychiatrist reports he had “deceived” them by saying that he was taking his medication when in fact he was not.
Can it really be that much of a surprise that a man with a very serious mental health diagnosis may not have been telling the truth when it came to his own condition? Would we expect the police to believe a man, with a long history of burglary, claiming that he wasn’t responsible – despite being seen leaving a stranger’s house in the middle of the night with a bag marked ‘swag’?
Of course, there will be investigations and no doubt in the coming months we’ll hear from the local NHS that lessons have been learnt and that they are sorry for this individual ‘failing’. I’m not suggesting for one moment that anyone but the killer is to blame for the loss of these lives, but where is the accountability from the people we trust to ensure that those who pose a harm to themselves or others are at least monitored sufficiently?
Conservative ministers have poured money into the NHS – and specifically into mental health services, where it was long overdue. But this isn’t just about money (our money). It is about a service that is too big, too unwieldy, and too used to getting what it wants for too long.
The cuts to policing budgets made back in 2011 still reverberate today, but the benefits of the 20,000 extra officer Uplift programme are now being seen in our communities. Time and again residents tell me that they know there are resource issues and that police have to combat increasingly complex, often online crime, while also finding savings.
So I was not surprised that Surrey residents were happy to pay more – because they know that their money will not be wasted.
The lesson for us as Conservatives is that the public are more intelligent when it comes to public spending than may politicians give them credit for, and they know the difference between organisations that waste money and those that don’t. Voters are willing to pay for reformed and efficient public services, but they will not abide throwing more of their money at those who are wasteful.
“Trust the people” is the oldest Conservative slogan in the book, and it is as true now as it was when Randolph Churchill told a Birmingham audience in 1884:
“Yes, trust the people. You, who are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, of being the guardians of the British Constitution, trust the people, and they will trust you”.
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Author: Lisa Townsend
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