Protesters kick off as Burnham defends unpopular council tax hike for police


Andy Burnham has been accused of ‘ignoring’ the public as he defended a full council tax increase for police which fewer than one in four people supported.

Protesters interrupted the mayor at a police, fire and crime panel meeting on Monday (January 31) where the £10 hike for Band D properties was approved.

They criticized the mayor for overlooking the results of a consultation in which only 23 pc of those who responded supported the police precept increase.

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The protesters also spoke about ‘institutional racism’ in the force, citing a number of recent deaths during police pursuits – eight in nine months – which they said ‘disproportionately’ involved young men from minority backgrounds.

One protester told members of the panel: “You don’t understand what it’s like to be in a community that continues to be harmed by a racist police force.”

The comments came after some members of the public were prevented from gaining access to the meeting at Manchester Central Convention Complex because they arrived late, even though some tardy councilors were allowed in.

Greater Manchester Police, Fire and Crime Panel on January 31
Protesters brought signs to the Greater Manchester Police, Fire and Crime Panel meeting on January 31

Protesters were told only 15 seats were available for members of the public and those who were allowed to enter the meeting were told they could only observe and could not display the signs which they had brought with them.

Elizabeth Cameron, who chairs Greater Manchester’s Race Equality Panel which was set up by the mayor, described this decision as ‘disgraceful’.

The meeting was temporarily suspended as the outbursts from the public gallery continued and some members of the public were asked to leave.

Kerry Pimblott, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, described the police panel’s discussion as ‘superficial’.

She said: “Some members of the public expressed an interest in hearing more about the consultation and the findings of the consultation.

“It was palpable in the room that there was concern from members of the public that what was expressed in the consultation was not being reflected.”

Burnham apologized that the ‘short’ public consultation only lasted 10 days.

In total, 1,096 people responded to the consultation, according to a report presented to the panel which featured just three lines about the results.

The metro mayor conceded that only 23 pc of those respondents supported the proposal to increase the police precept, while 30 pc wanted to freeze it.

Councilors on the panel also raised concerns about the increasing the police precept while the cost of living is rising – concerns echoed by the protesters.

But Burnham – who offered to meet with the protesters – defended the move.

He said: “It’s a challenging time at the moment to consult on any increase and it’s obviously difficult to get support for any increase or raising of council tax.

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“But having not given the police force the full increase last year and that causing a financial pressure that they’ve had to deal with, I do think it’s right this year to back them with the full increase.”

The Greater Manchester Mayor spoke of ‘green shoots’ which show that the police force is finally now moving in the right direction under new leadership.

He said the extra council tax revenue would fund the ‘transformation’ of the police contact center and speed up response times to 999 and 101 calls.

Together with the central government policing grant, the increased funding from the precept would fund 438 additional police officers of which 60 would be dedicated to road safety freeing up officers to focus on public transport.

The funding would also allow the force to continue with the new Operation Avro days of action which see a ‘surge’ of officers and specially trained teams dealing with issues communities tell the force they want to see dealt with.

And it would also fund a community messaging system that neighborhood policing teams would use to inform the public about what they are doing.

The panel unanimously agreed to the mayor’s proposal to increase the police precept which will cost an additional 55p per month for a Band A property – which is what 45 pc of council taxpayers in Greater Manchester would pay.

In a statement published after the panel meeting, a spokesperson for the Northern Police Monitoring Project said the decision ‘shows just how little regard’ the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has for the public.

They said: “The council tax increase will further exacerbate a cost-of-living crisis which is having a devastating impact across the city region, particularly for working class communities.

“It also comes amidst a raft of evidence of institutional racism in the force, at a time when GMP has been placed in special measures for systemic failings.

“In making his case for the increase, Mayor Burnham made a range of claims without evidence, only addressing the consultation when challenged by a member of the public.

“In so doing, he clearly showed just how undemocratic his decision-making is.”

Manchester Central Convention Complex where the police, fire and crime panel meeting took place
Manchester Central Convention Complex where the police, fire and crime panel meeting took place

Panel meetings, which are available to watch live online, are open for people to attend and observe, but members of the public do not have the right to speak.

The public gallery accommodates a limited number of people to attend in person, but these spaces are allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Based on security and safety advice from the police at the meeting, no further members of the public were allowed into the gallery once the meeting started.

In a statement made on Tuesday (February 1), a GMCA spokesperson said: “The meeting of the Greater Manchester Police, Fire and Crime Panel was repeatedly interrupted by interjections from speakers in the public gallery.

“They were opposed to additional precept funding for Greater Manchester Police and linked the recruitment of more police officers with racism.

“Having communicated their points to the chair, they continued interjecting and prevented the panel from proceeding despite being repeatedly asked to desist.

Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter for Salford and Wigan at the Manchester Evening News

Jo is a Local Democracy Reporter covering councils, the NHS and other local authorities in Manchester and Greater Manchester. He has previously covered local government in Bolton, Bury, Salford and Wigan.

You can read more of his stories here and follow him on social media on Facebook or Twitter.

If you want to contact Jo directly, you can email him at [email protected]

“They were offered a meeting with the mayor immediately following the panel, but declined. Given the panel was unable to make progress, they were then asked to leave and did so peacefully. The meeting was then able to resume.”

The panel also heard that a review of the problematic PoliceWorks part of the IOPS computer system is now complete and being ‘packaged’ up in a report which should be delivered to the mayor within the next few ‘weeks and days’.

The latest report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which follows a further visit last summer is also expected to be published shortly.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson warned the panel it ‘won’t be good news’.

A further council tax rise of £12 for the mayor’s general budget has been proposed and is expected to be approved at another meeting in February.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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