Police leave millions unspent as South Yorkshire residents face huge rise in charges
South Yorkshire Police is facing greater financial scrutiny after it emerged the force had millions of pounds left unspent at the end of last year despite a huge council tax rise.
Details of the underspend, in both day-to-day ‘revenue’ and long-term ‘capital’ budgets emerged only after the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, increased his element of council tax by 14 per cent for the current year.
He has now warned such increases will not happen in future and has employed a new financial officer with a remit to monitor closely how police chiefs use the money allocated to the force.
Dr Billings told members of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, the body made up of councillors which holds him to account, that £5.4m of unspent cash from last year would go into police ‘reserves’, the back up money available to deal with emergencies.
The force’s ‘capital’ spending, which goes on big long-term projects, was also hugely behind, with around £7m less than expected spent last year.
He said: “There is no way I can go on raising the precept if the force is not going to spend the money I am raising.
“I want to see the money raised spent on police priorities and I will not be very happy if that is not the case.
“It means when I look at the precept next year, we will not be looking at the precept (increase) we have had this year. They have the money and need to get on with it.
“This year in particular we are not seeing the kind of performance I would like from an organisation like South Yorkshire Police.
“We will be doing some very careful monitoring of that.”
A new financial officer is now working in Dr Billings’ office to monitor more closely police spending into the future.
Budget predictions are complex and the chief constable’s budget last year was underspent by more than £7m, with some of that attributed to staff leaving but also because money expected to go on settling ‘legacy issues’ such as compensation payments resulting from the Hillsborough disaster have been moved to this financial year.
Coun Joe Otten, who represents Sheffield Council on the panel, told Dr Billings: “Seven million pounds on a budget of £13m; that is failing to deliver more than half of the capital programme.
“I accept you will be looking at it but slippage on this scale, how will it impact on policing in South Yorkshire?
“It is not acceptable. We have a sea of red as an underspend, all of which is impacting on policing. I am almost lost for words.”
Dr Billings said he understood the “seriousness of the situation”.
“Asking for more for policing and then not spending it is a serious matter,” he said.
“I would expect the force to have a capital programme with some big ticket items which might slip, but other things which could be brought in. I am not clear as to whether they have got their heads around that.
“We have tolerated this for so long but it has got to a point where we cannot tolerate it any longer,” he said.