Police boss calls for Ministers to fund an army of youth workers in fight on crime
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has suggested the Government should fund 10,000 youth workers to compliment its announcement of 20,000 extra constables to help prevent offending in the first place.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government has announced the new officers as part of a raft of spending – including cash for the Crown Prosecution Service and prisons – which is regarded by some commentators as gearing up for an election campaign.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said additional officers would be welcome in South Yorkshire, but added that the announcement left many questions unanswered, such as how support services for extra front line staff would be financed.
He also suggested 10,000 youth workers would also help the fight against crime nationally by providing a distraction for youngsters who otherwise might drift into crime or become fodder to be exploited by organised crime gangs.
In addition, Dr Billings also said the recent announcement on extra officers might have influenced his decision to hike the precept – money paid by householders through council tax towards policing – by 14 per cent last year.
That move was made to allow the force to increase its officer numbers without Government backing, with plans now in place to swell the ranks by 220 by 2024.
But Dr Billings said he might have reviewed that decision had he known of the Whitehall plan.
Cash for the 20,000 officers is one of several state funded boosts to the South Yorkshire force to come outside its normal annual budget.
This year, two bids from the ‘early intervention youth fund’ mean an extra £1m being pumped into work across the county, with £2.5m made available for ‘surge’ operations against organised gangs, drug offenders and others who affect communities.
A further £1.6m has now been awarded for a violence reduction unit, involving police and many other public bodies, which has to be spent by the end of March.
While grateful for additional cash, Dr Billings has questioned the way it is awarded and the tight timescales sometimes involved – including the need to get 19 different people to sign up to an agreement for the VRU in the space of only two weeks.
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He said: “If we had known the Government was suddenly going to find money for 20,000 officers, it would have had a bearing on how much I put the precept up by.
“It was done to buy more officers, to do it in a sustainable way.
“I had to make sure the officers we were setting on could be maintained in the years going forward.
“We don’t know what the 20,000 means for South Yorkshire, we don’t know whether the Government will give us the money to replace the number we have lost.
“In South Yorkshire we have lost about 500.
“If they say they are going to do it to a formula, the chances are we may not totally replace the number we have lost.
“There is an unfairness about the 20,000 which the Government has not made clear. Basically, it is the West Midlands and North most affected by the cuts. The more northerly from London you go, the more the cuts bite.”
If the money for extra officers was restricted to paying purely for front line staff, it would create problems for forces having to boost the back-room infrastructure needed to support them, as well as the training regime needed until they became experienced.
“I would like the Government to put in 10,000 youth workers,” he said.
There had been a loss of youth workers across the country “which they really need to address” as a result of local authority austerity cuts, he said.