Anger as nearly £8,000 handed to focus group participants quizzed on Hampshire police budget

SERVING police officers are furious after nearly £8,000 was handed to focus group participants for their views on Hampshire Constabulary’s stretched budget.

Proposals to increase the police precept of council tax by £24 a year in a bid to boost the force’s budget by £18m will be unveiled tomorrow.

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane. Picture: Habibur Rahman

But a decision to hand £80 cash to each of the 98 participants in a focus group organised by the Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner have provoked anger.

The groups, run at Netley Training and Support headquarters, saw people invited to give their views as part of a wider public consultation on the police budget.

It comes after last year’s budget setting was mired in controversy when The News revealed criticism of crime commissioner Michael Lane’s plans for axing officers while allocating extra cash to run his team.

One person at Hampshire police, who spoke to The News on condition of anonymity, said: ‘It’s left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths - retired police officers and serving police officers as well. I think this has really upset a lot of people.’

A spokeswoman for Mr Lane’s office insisted that paying participants ensured attendance and allowed for a ‘robust consultation’.

She said: ‘While we understand the sensitivities around offering incentives at times of financial constraint, they do help ensure a more robust consultation in encouraging a wider range of people to take part than otherwise would.’

The spokeswoman added the groups would provide ‘valuable in-depth insight into how satisfied people are with policing, how safe they are feeling, and where they want policing resources to be directed to’, and that consulting is a statutory duty.

Hampshire Police Federation chairman Alex Charge, who represents rank-and-file officers at the force, said he has made clear to Mr Lane that any increase in budget from council tax precept must go to the front line.

Mr Charge said it’s ‘fairly standard across the industry’ to pay participants but added: ‘We would prefer that all money the PCC spends went on policing.

‘The difficulty we’re always going to have is that people, if they do a job, they’re going to have to be paid for the inconvenience of coming to Netley.

‘Our position is that we would want all money that the PCC spends from the precept to be spent on front line policing.’

Late last year the Home Office revealed there would be an increase in police funding.

A letter from home secretary Sajid Javid to MPs said Hampshire will receive £25m – made up of a £3.8m increase from a direct police grant and £18.2m from increased council tax. Another £3m will be handed to the force to cover a hike in pension contributions.

Cash increases will protect the recruitment of 200 police officers, 60 investigators, and new course for PCSOs.