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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

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Cumbria Police boss fears force may have to merge as budget plea rejected

PROPOSALS to increase the police’s budget have been knocked back by Cumbria County Councillors – putting the force at risk of merger, it has been claimed.

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RICHARD RHODES

Yesterday’s meeting of Cumbria County Council’s police and crime panel rejected plans which would have seen the police share of council tax increase by 1.93 per cent – the equivalent of £3.96 per year for a band D property.

The panel voted against the proposed increase eight to three. A decrease in crime with a reduced workforce was cited as one of the key reasons.

However, Cumbria police receives around 25 per cent of its budget through a Home Office policy known as “damping” which is under review. Police fear Cumbria could lose millions within two years if the funding formula is changed.

Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner for Cumbria, fears should the damping funding be withdrawn, Cumbria would be a prime candidate for a force merger.

He told the panel: “There is no speculation the government are going to review police funding.

“There are talks of mergers and one very simple way the government could force a merger would be to heavily reduce damping, and my office has advised you of that risk.

“The proposal in front of you could reduce that risk.”

The police and crime commissioners’ executive panel is due to meet on Monday, where the force budget is set to be discussed by Cumbria’s top officers.

Councillor Celia Tibble, chairwoman of the panel, voted in favour of the proposals.

She said: “I’m very concerned about the risk, as with other blue light services, that we are going to be penned in with North West as the ambulance service has.

“I’ve big concerns for Cumbria that we will lose our identity.”

Justifying the decision to reject the proposals, Councillor David Wilson said: “One of the reasons we are rejecting this proposal is mainly the reduction of crime in the county. Mr Rhodes is doing well.”

Mr Rhodes declined to comment following the meeting.

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