A ROW has broken out over the way a decision over an increase in the police share of the council tax was handled.

Members of the Dorset Police and Crime Panel have been venting their frustrations after the 1.96 per cent increase in the precept proposed by Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill was approved, despite the majority of the panel voting against it.

Although nine members opposed the rise and only seven voted in favour, the rise was approved because two thirds of the panel had to vote against it in order to veto the move.

Now panel member David Smith, pictured below left, a Bournemouth councillor, has written to all his local MPs asking for a change in the law.

He said: “The majority of the committee didn’t support him but it was acceptable in legal terms.

“We live in a democratic society and the majority should rule.”

Coun Smith said he now had doubts whether serving on the Police and Crime Panel was worthwhile.

He added: “We’re fairly toothless as far as I can see.

“If we can’t influence something like this, it makes you wonder whether it’s worth doing.”

However, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council member Geoff Petherick, inset right, said that, while he voted against the proposals because he disagreed that the rise was necessary, he had accepted that the voting rules were in place and the veto had not been achieved. He said: “It wasn’t something I necessarily agreed with but at the end of the day that’s the way the rules are put together so one accepts it.”

MP for Bournemouth East Tobias Ellwood has vowed to take up Coun Smith’s concerns and raise the issue with Home Secretary Theresa May.

He said: “It’s against all principles of democratic accountability that precept increases can be introduced when the majority is against the decision.

“I have asked the PCC to justify pursuing the increase when the majority of the scrutiny panel was clearly against it and have written to the Policing Minister asking for the voting procedures to be reviewed.”

Martyn Underhill’s recommendation to increase the police’s share of the council tax bill by 1.96 per cent was supported by Dorset County councillors Fred Drane and Ian Gardner and Poole councillors Judy Butt and Phil Goodall. Audrey Burch (North Dorset), Ali Patrick (Purbeck) and John Russell (West Dorset) also voted in favour.

Voting against were Bournemouth councillors David Smith, Dennis Gritt, John Adams and Malcolm Davies. Malcolm Birr (East Dorset), Bernie Davis (Christchurch), Geoff Petherick (Weymouth) and Independent co-opted members Iain McVie and Mike Short.

POLICE and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill has responded to criticism of the precept decision.

He defended the increase, claiming it was in the context of huge cuts in government funding and increasing demands on emergency services, and also responded to criticism of the process of making the decision.

Mr Underhill said: “The role of Police and Crime Commissioners and Police and Crime Panels is set out in statute.

“Democratic accountability for policing is the responsibility of Police and Crime Commissioners who were elected to hold forces to account.

“The majority of members of the Police and Crime Panel are appointed from their own local authority.

“Panels provide a scrutiny role and have a power of veto but are not directly elected by the public for this role.

“As set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, the panel can veto on the first occasion, the precept proposed by the PCC but only when two thirds of the panel members vote for a veto.

“Ultimately, the decision regarding the role and powers of the panel was agreed by Parliament and not locally.

“For this to change, parliament would need to revisit the act.”

He added: “I was democratically elected to oversee policing and crime in Dorset.

“A key responsibility of this post is to decide on the precept tax level that is in the best interest of residents and Dorset Police over the medium term.

“I am determined to hand over a debt free and efficient police force to my successor.

“I owe that to Dorset.”