The full financial impact of a Government policy of “indirect taxation” to pay for policing in South Yorkshire has been laid bare by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, with a warning he expects no relief from the current pressure on budgets.
In recent years the Government grants which pay the bulk of costs of policing the county have been cut back and PCC Dr Alan Billings has been left with no viable option other than to increase the cash taken from residents towards the policing bill, as part of the council tax each household pays.
But even that has not been enough to plug the black hole left by the Government’s reduced payments, leaving the force with a shortfall of more than £29m since 2010.
The changes mean the cash put in by the Government has been cut by 17.5 per cent, while the amount of money raised in the county through council tax has risen by virtually 20 per cent.
However, because Whitehall has historically paid the bulk of policing costs, the hike in council tax contributions has not been enough to cover the cuts made by Ministers, leaving the force – and residents – to face the reality of increased bills locally and cuts to the service.
The scale of increases which can be made to council tax are capped each year by the Government, but Dr Billings said the only alternative to imposing the maximum rise would be to see the police service cut even further.
He said: “The squeeze has come in a number of different ways, a reduction in the Government grant and upping the precept but we still cannot get the amount we need.
“It is the Government raising taxation indirectly, through people like me to put the precept up.
“Because if you don’t do it, you will have to cut the force even more.
“My view for the next few years is that there will not be any additional funding. Attention has switched to social care.
“I think the reality is the Government will not give more money, the best we can hope for is that it will stay the same.
“You may want to plan over three years. It is clear there won’t be any additional funding,” he said.
That will mean police having to seek further efficiencies to make savings through the way they work, to preserve services.
It is also hoped a new arrangement for the Home Office funding expected to help cope with South Yorkshire’s ‘legacy’ issues of the Hillsborough disaster, the child sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham and the subsequent National Police Agency Operation Stovewood which is still ongoing.
Historically, when claims for help have been considered, a £2.4m penalty has been knocked off the Government’s award, in a system similar to a domestic insurance ‘excess’.
Dr Billings is now hoping all three claims can be considered as one, to give just one penalty, instead of a combined £7.2m loss.
“That is a lot of money rolled together. I am asking if they can put them all together as one application,” he said.
“We have to pay something because things were done wrong in the past. It is right to pay something, but not so much as to make the force’s finances quite precarious,” he said.
Cost cutting in the last few years left South Yorkshire Police in a state of turmoil, with many decisions taken by the previous Chief Constable to save money now being overturned.
That includes a return to neighbourhood policing, which is regarded as having a highly positive impact on communities, the return of CID officers to local policing districts and the return of the mounted and dogs sections to South Yorkshire duties, ending shared arrangements with the West Yorkshire and Humberside forces.
Dr Billings said the changes were introduced at a time when the force had to deal with particularly severe budget reductions, but he added that had business cases been properly constructed, they would have highlighted the consequences of the changes.
He also accepted there had been damage to morale within the force, with some staff recognising the flaws with forthcoming changes as they were implemented.
“Occasionally they (staff) will see something they know won’t work,” he said.
“I think they felt they were not heard, not listened to. That seems to me to be one of the big lessons for South Yorkshire Police leadership, that you have to listen to the workforce much more carefully.”