Knife crime cash will finance ‘intense’ police activity against chief suspects in Sheffield

Money to tackle knife crime awarded to South Yorkshire Police will be spent mainly on a “surge of activity” in Sheffield, where the county’s most serious problems exist, but the county’s policing chief has warned the money will not buy long term solutions.

By Paul Whitehouse
Thursday, 21st March 2019, 8:45 am
Updated Thursday, 21st March 2019, 8:48 am
Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings

The county’s police service has been awarded a share of a £100m fund announced last month by Chancellor Philip Hammond, to assist the country’s police forces worst affected by crime.

Knife crime in South actually fell during 2018, though a series of serious incidents including fatal stabbings in the early months of the year mean the issue remains high on the agenda for police and other agencies in the area.

Money coming to South Yorkshire, like six other forces, is earmarked for overtime and work by specialist units to reduce knife crime.

The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said: “It is a sum for a limited period, it will lead to what police term a surge of activity, mainly in Sheffield, around people drug dealing, known to be the sort of people who carry blades.

“It will be focused, targeted and intense for a period. It will have an effect, but it is a one-off fund,” he said.

But Dr Billings is critical of a funding process which demands services hit by years of austerity have to bid for cash made available by ministers – in this case, applications had to be submitted within a week of the funding being announced.

“You get a rather random approach, where money goes not to the areas of most need, but to those which get their bids in quickly enough and make enough noise,” he said.

“I don’t think that is the way to run the police or the Government,” he said.

Brexit is contributing to longer-term uncertainty about the way policing is funded in this country because a spending review expected to be carried out this year – which would have helped to dictate future funding levels from central Government – now appeared likely to be delayed because of continued uncertainty over the country’s position in the EU, said Dr Billings.

That left police “not in a very good position”, he said, because the outcome of the review – when it happens – will provide a baseline for future spending.

This year he has increased the precept paid with council tax by 14 per cent to help pay for additional police officers, but has warned that cannot be repeated in future.

“I think the Government has come to accept the relationship between police officer numbers and crime,” he said.

“I don’t think the public ever doubted that.”