Council tax rise to pay for new police and fire officers

Council tax bills will rise for every household in Greater Manchester to cover the cost of recruiting hundreds more police and fire officers.

The average household will have to pay an extra £24 in the coming year under plans approved by the combined authority.

This will fund 347 new police officers - including a named neighbourhood officer and community support officer in each of the city region's 215 wards.

More than 100 new firefighters will also be taken on, while planned cuts to the fire service – including reducing the number of fire engines – have been postponed.

Further funding will also be put into travel scheme Our Pass and the rough sleeping initiative A Bed Every Night.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham described council tax as a ‘regressive’ way of funding essential services, and that increasing it would ‘hit some of our poorest communities hardest’.

But he told regional leaders on Friday that the tax hike reflected calls from the public for better-funded emergency services and an improved public transport system.

Mayoral and police precepts

Council tax pays for a proportion of every day local services in Greater Manchester. But part of the bill – known as the precept – is assigned to the mayor to fund regional services.

From April 1 the cost of council tax for Band D households will go up to £90.95 – an increase of £14 – to cover the mayoral precept.

Most of this will go towards funding the fire service, while the separate police precept will go up by £10.

This means there will be a proposed total increase of £24 for Band D properties in 2020/21.

Andy Burnham said: “Council tax is a regressive tax and it is not in any way, shape or form the ideal way to fund essential services.

“It is important to always be cognizant of the fact that any increase in council tax hits some of our poorest communities hardest.”

Bobbies back on the neighbourhood beat

Since the start of austerity in 2010, Greater Manchester Police has had £215 million cut from its budgets. 

There were around 8,200 officers working within GMP in 2010, but numbers have dwindled to just 6,200 due to austerity cuts

Since 2017 the frontline has been boosted to just over 7,000 officers, and an extra 347 police officers will be taken on this year as part of the government's national recruitment drive. 

This will be partly funded by the police precept, which has already paid for 350 additional officers over the last two years.

By raising the police precept, Andy Burnham has promised a named neighbourhood police officer and police community support officer in each of Greater Manchester’s 215 wards.

Not every area will have a single, dedicated officer. Some will cover more than one patch.

Some officers will also be assigned to schools that need extra enforcement.

Fire station cuts put on hold with more firefighters on the way

Mr Burnham has increased the fire service element of his mayoral precept to pay for the recruitment of 108 firefighters in 2021/21.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has also suffered from government cuts with £23.8 million removed from its budgets since 2010.

But the mayor had been considering further cuts to the service as recently as last September. 

Plans to save £10 million included cutting the number of fire engines from 56 to 47, with a merger of six fire stations also on the cards.

While six engines have been culled, a fleet of 50 will be kept on. The merger of Bolton North and Central stations has also been put on hold.

Mr Burnham said he was always prepared to shift his approach in light of ‘changing’ evidence, namely the events at Grenfell Tower and The Cube fire in Bolton.

But he said: “The time has come to make it clear to the government, particularly post-Grenfell, that essential local emergency services cannot continue to be funded in this way.”

Our Pass expansion and free bus travel for care leavers

The combined authority’s pilot scheme Our Pass allows 16 to 18-year-olds to travel free on buses across Greater Manchester for a one-off £10 fee.

Since it was introduced last September over 38,000 passes have been issued, with holders making more than 5.4 million journeys.

Due to its success, council taxpayers will be asked to pay for it to continue.

The mayor will also provide free bus travel to those leaving care up to the age of 21, building on his pledge to exempt those in the age group from paying council tax.

“I’m delivering on our commitment to care leavers who we know face major disadvantages in life,” said Mr Burnham. 

“I want to do what I can with the powers I have to help ease some of the pressures on them by helping them get around by providing free bus travel.

Rough sleeping

Funding will be provided to support scheme to help A Bed Every Night (ABEN), the scheme aimed at supporting rough sleepers off the streets.

The number of people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester has fallen by more than a third in a year, according to a count done by the combined authority.

ABEN has supported nearly 3,318 people with 1,186 people assisted into longer-term accommodation. 

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