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'No' vote in first council tax referendum

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Bedfordshire residents have voted against a 15.8% rise in the amount charged by their police and crime commissioner in the first referendum called on a council tax increase.

A total of 207,551 people (69.5% of votes cast in the county) rejected the rise, while 91,086 (30.5%) supported the proposal. The turnout was 64.1%.

Bedfordshire PCC Olly Martins (Lab) sparked the referendum when he imposed a 15.8% increase in his council tax precept for 2015-16, higher than 2% trigger for a poll.

He said the extra £4.5m raised would be used to fund 100 additional police constables, including 75 deployed to neighbourhood policing teams and 25 to tackle child sexual exploitation and cyber crime.

The referendum result means the increase, which had already come into effect, will have to be refunded to residents of the three affected local authorities – Central Bedfordshire UA, Bedford BC and Luton BC.

In a statement, Mr Martin said the voters had given “a clear and emphatic verdict” but that “the underlying problem has not gone away”.

“The budget of Bedfordshire Police will now be £1.28m less in the current financial year than it was last year, and the cumulative impact of anticipated government funding cuts is currently projected to lead to a £6m funding shortfall,” he said.

“This will result in a recruitment freeze in the next 18 to 24 months and a reduction of up to 135 police officers, or 12% of our current strength.

“Bedfordshire Police faces serious urban challenges but is funded as though it is a small rural force. As a result it has the worst financial position of any police force in the UK.”

He added that the lack of properly resourced neighbourhood policing teams meant Bedfordshire Police was “potentially a weak link in the fight against terrorism and organised crime”.

“However, the risks we face and the lack of resources mean the job we have to do is like trying to cover a double bed with a single duvet, and something will always be left not being satisfactorily covered,” warned Mr Martin.

He said he would be seeking an “urgent opportunity” to meet with the Home Secretary to press Bedfordshire’s case and urge the government to take notice of the “unique circumstances” in the county.

A breakdown of the referendum results revealed there were 52,399 votes against the rise in Bedford, compared with 28,311 in favour. There were 91,716 votes against the increase in Central Bedfordshire and 42,682 for, while Luton registered 63,446 ‘no’ votes and 20,093 ‘yes’.

The referendum was one of five elections taking place in Bedford BC last Thursday. There was also polls for two parliamentary seats, an elected mayor, the borough council and parish councils.

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