Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has called on Bedford Borough Council’s Mayor and leading Liberal Democrat group to work with the Force as promised despite a political leaflet distributed as a ‘newspaper’ - the North Bedfordshire Observer - urging her to call on the Government for more funding for policing, as if she had not done so continuously since coming into her role, including sharing a survey on police funding.
At her request, the PCC invited all Bedford Borough Councillors to hear from her, the Deputy Chief Constable, Garry Forsyth and Bedfordshire Police’s Chief Finance Officer, Phil Wells, in advance of her proposal to increase the policing precept by a maximum of £2 per month per Band D home in the next year, which will be put to the county’s Police and Crime Panel next month (February 5 2019) in order for the PCC to recruit 160 more Police Constables in 2019-20.
The meeting took place at Bedford Borough Hall last week (on January 16 2019) with councillors of all parties, including the leading Liberal Democrat group, welcoming the Commissioner’s approach to reintroduce and boost Community Policing, as they now take part in Local Priority Area setting meetings each quarter with police to establish the matters which are most important to residents in their areas. Councillors also backed her commitment to raise police numbers by recruitment of 160 more Constables this financial year. Cllr. Alison Foster also praised the introduction of the largest Rural Policing Unit in the seven force Eastern Region and cited her own experience of the regular public engagement of officers in her own area of Harrold.
The PCC confirmed that she has worked continuously over the past two years 18 months to very robustly explain the need for sustainable funding of Bedfordshire Police to at least the same level of forces facing comparable crime challenges, such as the third highest level of counter terror in the country, serious organised crime and ‘county lines’ drug and gun dealing networks to and from London and unprecedented levels of gang and knife crime, following the national trend.
Yet the Liberal Democrat group distributed a leaflet over last weekend (Sunday 20 January 2019 in the case of the Commissioner’s own home) which stated: “Bedfordshire has a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner and she must also ask her Government to fund our Police, at least to the same level of other forces.”
“I don’t drag politics into policing and I was incredulous, frankly, to read this instruction in a leaflet posted through my own door, as I have been driving the Bedfordshire Police fairer funding message home to the Government and MPs every single week for the whole of my time in office; in absolutely constant contact with the Policing Minister, Nick Hurd, and his two predecessors, two Home Secretaries, all MPs across the county irrespective of political party, the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Prime Minister herself, in person.
“That’s precisely why I was personally successful in winning a unique £4.571m Policing Special Grant for Bedfordshire Police in December 2018 as well as its new £8m funding for 2019-20 as part of the national Policing Settlement for all 43 forces, just before Christmas.
“I formally wrote to the Mayor and asked for him and his council to write to the Chancellor before the Policing Settlement to throw their weight behind the door to back me in calling for a much better settlement for Bedfordshire Police this year yet I’ve never seen such a letter. I’ve repeatedly asked for joint working beyond politics to help Bedfordshire Police and that’s exactly what councillors across the entire Borough Council voiced their support for just last week.
“We have to stop treating policing like a political football and start working together as all the Bedford Borough councillors who spoke at the meeting told me they wanted, including some very positive and supportive messages from the Liberal Democrat ruling group themselves,” said Commissioner Holloway.
PCC Holloway also queried the format of the political leaflet as the title of the glossy four page publication - “North Bedfordshire Observer” - suggested that it was a newspaper, despite a single line at the top in much smaller print stating “Delivered by Lib Dem volunteers.”
“I am a former news reporter who has worked across local, regional and national news for more than 20 years. I know people tend to trust editorial in newspapers which has been written by independent journalists much more than political leaflets. For this reason, I used a wrap-around our existing newspaper, The Bedford Times and Citizen, before my own election, rather than mislead people by sending out something which has been designed specifically to look and sound like a newspaper even down to the “free” label on the title, when no political leaflet is ever charged for. This was cynically misleading.
“But what was truly cynical was to say the party is backing fair funding for Bedfordshire Police when they have already been given the chance to do so, in writing, by me and to imply that I have not done what I have continuously done for more than two and a half years.
“Nevertheless, now the Lib Dems are copying my own office in running a survey on police funding, which we have been doing for weeks, I have written to the Mayor and asked him to put politics aside and add his own survey results to ours to deliver the views of an even larger section of the population to the Police and Crime Panel next month, when setting the budget and to assist approval of the police precept rise to allow me to recruit those 160 officers.
“I have asked the Mayor to set politics aside and work fully with me and Bedfordshire Police to do what we were both elected to do - protect the public in and around Bedford - and I trust that the two Liberal Democrat members on the panel will now attend and vote for the funding uplift this year,” said Commissioner Holloway.
Members of the public can comment on the Commissioner’s proposed council tax rise on www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/precept2019 and also contribute to the Liberal Democrat survey at bedfordlibdems.org.uk/policemoney.