I attended Frodsham Town Council's budget setting council meeting tonight. The first order of business was a discussion with the police regarding the funding of Police Community Support Officers - PCSOs.
PCSOs are funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner. They are allocated by the Chief Constable. There are around 200 PCSOs throughout the Cheshire Police area. They serve a population of just over 1 million. On a simple pro-rata basis there is around 1 PCSO for 5,000 people. Frodsham has a population of around 9,500 so on a population basis you'd expect us to have nearly 2 PCSOs. We have one.
In some cases PCSOs are part funded by partners. Those partners include Cheshire West and Chester Council, Frodsham Town Council and some social landlords. The partners, at present pay what is described as 1/3rd of the cost of the PCSO. The maths is interesting though. FTC's 1/3rd in 2016-17 (i.e. the current financial year) is £11,918. The advertised salary costs of a PCSO are between £19,326-£21,402. In other words FTC's '1/3rd' is, in reality 55% of the highest paid PCSO gross salary.
Typically, though when considering the costs of an individual employee one also has 'on-costs' such as the employer's national insurance and pension contributions. In addition establishment costs can also be added. It can only be on the basis of these additional costs that £11,918 can be considered to be a third.
So doing the maths - if 1/3rd is £11,918 - the full cost must be £11,918 x 3 = £35,754.
But if the full figure is £35,754 - the on-costs must be £35,754-£21,402 = £14,352 for the most expensive PCSO. That is the on-costs are 67% of the highest gross salary.
Frankly I don't believe the on-costs can be anything like as high as this - however I remain open to being convinced - but I will now expect full disclosure of the relevant figures.
Good PCSOs are a tremendous asset for their community. Ten parish or town councils in CWaC part fund 'their' PCSO no doubt recognising this.
So this is the background to tonight's discussions.
The police indicated that for the next financial year (17-18) they want the '1/3rd' deal to continue. With inflation that means for FTC £12,038.
However for 18-19 they want FTC to 'fully fund' the PCSO. They estimated the costs of fully funding at around £38,000. (Remember the advertised highest salary is £21,402.)
Yes, that's right - the suggestion is that if Frodsham wants to have a PCSO other than perhaps a rudimentary provision shared with others it will cost around £38,000.
FTC's revenue budget is around £190,000. A contribution of £38,000 would amount to 20% of FTC's current revenue budget. This is bad enough for a community like Frodsham. Helsby Parish Council's revenue budget is around £110,000. A £38,000 contribution would represent around 35% of their revenue budget.
On noting these figures I suggested to the Police that this proposal was a good way of ending partner funding from Town and Parish councils who would, most likely, find these figures unaffordable.
Is this part of a plan by the Police and Crime Commissioner to cut the number of PCSOs and blame others for it? I've had this suspicion for a while - and I've seen nothing to dissuade me so far.
The debate also went into the enhanced service that those towns or parishes that fund PCSOs would receive - however the police weren't able to describe those enhancements at the moment. I made the remark - that it sounds like the 'enhanced' service will actually be what Frodsham receives at the moment.
I will be tabling a series of questions for the Police and Crime Commissioner at the next Police and Crime Panel.
Since posting this blog I've had a thought.
Could FTC employ its own 'PCSO'? If it could (and I don't know whether it can) even allowing for 20% on-costs for NI, pensions etc that would suggest a costing of c£26k... an indicative £12k 'saving' on £38k. This would still be a doubling of the present costing - but I suspect it would be do-able - where £38k looks very, very expensive.