Demand for dozens of extra neighbourhood police too expensive to be fulfilled, force boss says

Councillors who demanded 50 extra neighbourhood police officers in South Yorkshire next year are unlikely to see their request by the cash-strapped service, the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner has confirmed.

Sunday, 10th February 2019, 15:32 pm
Updated Sunday, 10th February 2019, 15:41 pm
Dr Alan Billings

To follow their request would cause “damage” to other elements of policing, which is not acceptable, said Dr Alan Billings.

Next year residents will see the cash they pay alongside Council Tax to support policing soar by 14 per cent which, along with a more generous payment from the Government than had been expected, will allow South Yorkshire Police to recruit 55 additional officers, with 40 of those to go onto neighbourhood duties.

However the county’s Police and Crime Panel, a watchdog body which oversees the work of PCC Dr Alan Billings, decided that was too few and asked him – along with Chief Constable Stephen Watson – to find 90 officers for neighbourhood work.

Dr Billings is to meet Mr Watson on Monday February 11 to discuss the issue, but has no expectation the demand can be met without causing damage to other elements of policing, which is regarded as an unacceptable consequence.

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Members of the Police and Crime Panel, made up largely of councillors from the county’s four district councils, appeared close to issuing a veto on Dr Billing’s budget when they met last week, but finally approved it with the caveat they wanted more neighbourhood officers and set a target of 90 in total.

Dr Billings said he did not expect that to be possible, but added there was “an aspiration to increase officer numbers year on year” in future, though that would ultimately be dictated by Government funding policy.

“If we can continue to get the grant settlement we have had this year, we can start to think about growing numbers,” he said.

“It has to be an aspiration because you don’t know what the settlement will be.

“You have to know what you are going to do with those police officers, know all the costs of bringing them in, uniforms, training, having the IT and body-worn videos which are being rolled out this year. That is what the Police and Crime Panel, in my view, were failing to take into account, in addition to the salaries of the police officers.

“I am talking to the Chief Constable. I have had one conversation with him and will have a longer conversation.

“Unless he can come up with something I cannot think of, if we were to do what the panel asked – I cannot raise the precept any more and cannot use reserves because that gets us into trouble in future years – the only way to do what they asked is to take resources from somewhere else.

“There is nowhere else in the organisation which is so comfortably off.

“This year it cannot be done without causing damage elsewhere in the organisation. We don’t want to pull police resources to bolster one place if it means it has weakened somewhere else.”

A review of the work of PCSOs in the county is currently in progress, with an initial assumption it would be a cost neutral exercise.

Although it was possible that could yield some savings, it would not be enough to finance the additional officers the panel wanted, he said.

“There are all sorts of reviews which might yield some savings,” he said.

But if they generated additional money, it would mean looking across the service’s whole workforce to decide how it should be used, he said.

“There is more to policing than neighbourhood policing.

“Neighbourhood police are not the only police in a neighbourhood. There are response officers going in and out, there are detectives working there and under-cover officers,” he said.