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North Wales Police Crime Commissioner recalls own benefit struggles

NORTH WALES’ crime commissioner said he listened to the public before increasing the police precept by 5.14%, claiming he understands the financial hardship families are suffering during the cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Andy Dunbobbin said a ‘perfect storm’ had pushed up the precept but pledged to make a difference to the people of North Wales, recalling a time when his own family relied on benefits to survive.
The police precept is lumped in with each annual council tax rise, which this year is costing each household 31p extra per week.
The rise follows a survey across all six North Wales counties in which residents were asked about policing in North Wales as well as selecting a range of precept increases, ranging from 19p to 35p extra a week.
North Wales Police will receive a grant of £88.7m in 2023/24 from the UK Government with the rest coming from North Wales Police’s precept, which will bring in just over £100.2m, amounting to a total budget of £188.9m.
Last year’s precept brought in £93.86m. The total budget was around £182.2m.

This means that North Wales Police’s budget will have increased by £6.69m from last year with the precept increase bringing in £6.383m of that sum.
The precept was agreed by the North Wales Police and Crime Panel this week where councillors heard how North Wales Police has reserves of around £42m.
But in an exclusive interview with the local democracy reporting service, North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Mr Dunbobbin says a ‘perfect storm’ had forced the police to put up its rates, despite the police making millions of pounds of behind-the-scenes savings.
“There are a few things that have significantly impacted the level of the precept,” said Mr Dunbobbin.

“The war in Ukraine has affected it; Brexit has had an impact as well, and we’ve had the pandemic. It has been a bit of a perfect storm where significant things have happened beyond anybody’s control. But what I can do is to try and mitigate as best as I can.
“I’ve been involved in public life since 2012 and a county councillor since 2013, and all I’ve experienced through my time previously as a county councillor for Flintshire is how to deliver more services with less money.
“That’s all I’ve ever known. So what I do know and where I’m able to draw on my experience is how to put that challenge to the police force. Public service, it’s still the same, isn’t it? The police are part of that public service family.
“We do have very robust and challenging conversations between myself and the chief (constable) and PCC and the force, and putting that challenge to them and seeing what it comes back with, without having any detrimental effect on how policing is delivered in North Wales, and it doesn’t.”

Many of the budget cuts proposed by North Wales Police were behind-the-scenes savings, such as cuts to the emergency services network (a national scheme to improve ‘airwave communications network’), staff turnover costs (such as experienced staff retiring and being replaced by new staff on less pay), and cheaper IT contracts.
During a time when utility-bill prices, fuel, and the general cost of living have skyrocketed, council such as Conwy have angered residents by proposing to increase council tax by as much as 10%.
But Mr Dunbobbin said he understands personal hardship, admitting his own family had had, in the past, to rely on benefit payments.

“What I do know is if people are under financial pressure, they are increasing themselves to being more vulnerable and susceptible to other things that are out there,” he said.
“And I’m more about how we can protect vulnerable people as best as we can. We all make choices in our lives. It might not be the right choice, but it is about supporting those and trying to help those people make better-informed choices.
“They may become more vulnerable because of that cost-of-living crisis. I’m quite aware of what people are experiencing, and as somebody who has been in receipt of council-tax benefits, in receipt of housing benefits, working tax credit, child tax credit, child benefits – I’ve been in receipt of all of them – I’m really grateful for me and my family and our children. It has been really tough. It has not been easy, but we’ve been grateful for that financial support that has been put in place.
“But I’m also aware of what risks that can present to some who may not be as resilient as me or yourself, and that’s a real shame, so we should be able to do whatever we can to support those people.”

Mr Dunbobbin added: “It goes back to those principles of why I joined public life. I joined the town council in 2012. I joined the county council in 2013, and now I’m in this position.
“The reason I got involved was to make a positive difference in people’s lives because I had a personal experience in 2009 where there was a significant amount of change and loss, which made me reflect on what I wanted out of life.
“So I made that choice then, and that is at the heart of what I do, and those principles are still there, and I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

Speaking at the crime panel meeting this week at Conwy’s Bodlondeb HQ, Cllr Louise Emery commended the police for making behind-the-scenes cuts that wouldn’t damage police visibility.
But Cllr Emery also pointed out that North Wales Police had asked for more money, despite having a healthy bank balance.
“It is clear that North Wales Police’s finances are in a pretty good state,” she said.
“We have a strong balance sheet, and we have £42m in reserves.
“I’m sure there are a few county councils that would  love to have £42m in reserves.”

North Wales Police’s chief finance officer Kate Jackson responded.
“£42m sounds such a lot of money; it really does,” she said.
“And if I had £40m, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, talking to you about this.
“But it is not much money for a large public-sector organisation, and if we set the council tax lower, then we would run the risk of running these reserves into negative territory very quickly.”
North Wales Police Crime Panel backed the precept unanimously.