Latest Public Sector News

03.02.16

Police cuts continue despite government rhetoric

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 16

Two police and crime commissioners, Dr Alan Billings and Tony Lloyd, talk to PSE to discuss the challenges for local policing in their areas, and the general direction for emergency services.

The chancellor used his last Autumn Statement to announce that there would be “no cuts” to police funding in the next financial year. But since grants have not risen with inflation, forces still face a cut in practical terms.  

This has left many facing a funding black hole, and police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have been told by the gorvernment to raise extra money by putting up the council tax precept to the “maximum permitted”. 

Dr Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire PCC, told PSE: “Government funding leaves us £8m-£10m short of what the actual demands are of the services, as opposed to the funding that we are getting.” 

As part of the savings that need to be made in South Yorkshire, Commissioner Billings said 55 officers will be lost this year, but only “16 will come from neighbourhood policing teams”. In total, more than 200 jobs will be axed across the force, which Billings hopes will be achieved through retirements and voluntary redundancy. 

Bobbies on the beat 

When PSE first talked to Commissioner Billings after his by-election win in late 2014, he said he wanted to keep as many ‘bobbies on the beat’ as possible. 

Now, after 15 months in the post, he said: “It is very challenging. Numbers have been falling since the time of austerity began – except in South Yorkshire for PCSOs. My predecessor used reserves, eventually, to fund PCSOs at a continuous level. 

“Last year we couldn’t maintain that any longer, so PCSO numbers fell as well. We had a voluntary enhanced redundancy scheme during that time, but they are the eyes and ears of the constabulary. We do need them. 

“I’ve now agreed with the chief constable that we will keep PCSOs at the same level for the next four years, as we have them now: 225. That is a commitment we have made, but it is hard because you know if you’re committing in one area you have to take resources from another. Getting that right has been very difficult.” 

Across the Pennines, Greater Manchester PCC Tony Lloyd, who is also the region’s interim mayor, agreed that the funding challenge is getting ever harder. 

“One thing the government does have to look very long and hard at is that we have gone too far in Greater Manchester, in my view. Whilst the council tax will go up this year, I’ve still received a cut budget,” he said. “I’ve attempted to limit the impact but it does mean that year-on-year we’ve seen a reduction in policing numbers.”

Collaboration 

Both PCCs said they have looked to take out costs where possible through the remodelling of services, co-locating with other emergency services, and reducing estate spends. 

Billings said: “We’re closing police stations because it is better to spend the money on people than it is on buildings. We already have a shared fire service/police station building at Maltby [east of Rotherham]. I imagine there will be more of that going forward. It is a question of where the buildings are and how suitable they are.” 

The government has told PCCs they have a duty to do this, but Commissioner Billings was hesitant over proposals for PCCs to take over fire services in England. 

“Whether it is to be welcomed or not, it isn’t something I am pushing for,” he said. “I want to make that absolutely clear to colleagues in the fire service and those elected officials on fire authorities. But it is something we are all going to have to think about and look at because it is the direction of travel – the home secretary and government is very clear.” 

In Manchester, however, where the PCC position is to be merged into that of the mayor in 2017, Commissioner Lloyd said having all services through one structure makes sense, “so long as we do not lose the recognition that they are unique services”. 

“I make the point that we want things welded into a strong partnership, without losing the identity of services,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do is make it an ever-closer working relationship, and embed all public services together.

“There is that mutuality of working. I think the mayoral model is right for a conurbation like Manchester. I’m not saying it is necessarily right everywhere, but it does allow that join-up across the patch.” 

Crime figure concerns 

Both Billings and Lloyd told PSE they were concerned about recent Office for National Statistics figures showing a 6% increase in police-recorded crime to September 2015 compared with the previous year, with a steep rise in violent crime and sex offences. 

Lloyd said: “The reality is that the demand on policing does increase. It was a scandal that historically things like child sexual exploitation (CSE) weren’t seen as a priority. It certainly is now. 

“With reported crime continuing to rise, it’s vital that we make sure resources are available where needed – both to solve crimes and to work with partner agencies to prevent them from happening in the first place.” 

Billings added that overall crime had been falling for a very long time, and the rise could be a blip or the start of a trend. “If it is the beginning of a trend then it is very worrying indeed,” he said. “That is a question of whether it relates back to the cuts that have been going on. Clearly it might be a correlation, but whether there is a causation will be something that politicians and officers, I daresay, will argue about for a long time.” 

The CSE situation in Rotherham was one of the factors that brought Billings into the post, after his predecessor Shaun Wright stepped down in September 2014. Wright had previously been the Rotherham councillor responsible for children’s services from 2005-10. In a number of reports, notably those by Professor Alexis Jay and Louise Casey, the council, police and other agencies were accused of failing to properly investigate or tackle the sexual abuse of children. 

But Billings is confident that the force is getting to a point “where we have done all that we can”. 

“One of the first things I did was set up the Drew Review [an independent review into South Yorkshire Police’s handling of reports of CSE, conducted by Professor John Drew] who is looking across all the districts to ensure that what happened in Rotherham isn’t happening elsewhere. He will be reporting fairly soon,” said Billings, who is confident that while there will be recommendations it is unlikely that the problem was systemic across the region. 

Technology an aid, not silver bullet 

Police in both South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while suffering frontline and back office reductions, have invested in technology to help keep officers on the street as much as possible. 

“What we are trying to do in Greater Manchester is remodel how the police works more intelligently,” said Commissioner Lloyd. “Technology has moved us on. For example, we are investing quite a lot of money in mobile equipment – tablets and smartphones – so that police officers can stay on the streets for longer. They have the basic information in hand. 

“We are getting more hours of real policing work from them. But nobody should pretend – this is an aid, not a magic bullet.” 

PCC re-election 

Commissioner Billings will stand for re-election in May. And, having been in the post for over a year, he says he is in a better position to know what he can and can’t promise. 

“For me, this time, I know what are the realistic things you can promise and pledge, and what is unrealistic in a time of cuts,” said Billings. “I think we can talk about maintaining local policing and neighbourhood policing, but being realistic about that. 

“We are not talking about the same number of officers and extra ‘bobbies on the beat’ – well not in South Yorkshire, because there isn’t the funding for it – but I can talk about holding the line with PCSOs. We think we can manage that.” 

Lloyd, however, said it was too early to say whether he would be standing as a candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoral role in May 2017. 

But he did say that in the year to come, he would like to continue moving the region onto a “problem solving way of operating”. 

“Ever-closer working together across the public services where appropriate is also key,” said Lloyd. “And I’d like to establish the identity of the mayoral role so that people know it exists and what it can bring. This is because Greater Manchester, as an entity, will be making decisions which are as important as those in central government.”

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