Policing boss “disappointed” by unexpected demand for dozens of extra officers

A demand to recruit 50 additional neighbourhood officers in South Yorkshire this year – on top of 40 already planned – have been rejected by the county’s two policing bosses, who say it is “doubtful” the service could cope with that level of fresh staff.

Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 9:17 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 9:23 am
PCC Dr Alan Billings

South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Panel is a body made up mainly of councillors which monitors the work of the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, who set a budget for the year ahead which includes 55 additional officers, including 40 for neighbourhood duties – the first time the force has expanded since the financial crash.

But panel members said they wanted 90 new officers for neighbourhood work and Dr Billings agreed to re-assess the budget with Chief Constable Stephen Watson.

Now he has written back to panel members, rejecting the request and stating: “Neither of us think this makes sense at this time”.

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To balance the books this year, Dr Billings has had to increase the money he raises from householders on their Council Tax bills by 14 per cent – an increase he has already said is not sustainable in future – and adding the officers requested would create an additional bill of £1.75m.

In his letter to the panel, Dr Billings states: “Funding for any additional officers would essentially have to come from cuts/savings elsewhere.

“I cannot believe you think we can simply cut further without having an impact on the force’s effectiveness.”

Raiding the force’s cash reserves to pay for the staff would be “imprudent” because there would be nothing in place to finance them in future years, he adds.

He also questioned the panel’s failure to raise their desire for more officers earlier in the budget setting process, telling them: “We were also a little disappointed that the issues you raised were not mentioned before the meeting, especially as you now have the chance to do this at the Budget Working Group, and Budget Familiarisation meeting, or when the Chief Constable presented on neighbourhood policing numbers at December’s panel meeting.

“Had the panel done so, we could have had earlier discussions with the force, and it would have featured in our dialogue with the Home Office about our financial position.”

Although the service will expand by 55 officers overall next year, the actual rate of recruiting will be much higher as replacements are employed to cover for those retiring from service.

It means there will be around 18 new officers joining the service every month.

Dr Billings wrote: “There is a lead in time for all of this.

“New officers are inexperienced and need training and working alongside experienced officers.

“They need uniforms, lap tops and vehicles. This has all to be factored in to the recruitment that is represented in the budget.

“The panel do not seem to have understood that the proposed uplift in numbers is just the first tranche of what we hope will be a continuing increase in officer numbers going forward.

“But this recruitment has to be done in a measured way.”

Many of the new officers will be posted to Doncaster, a busy district with several unique demands in the county which is regarded as having been relatively poorly served in staff numbers.

Eight new officers will join the neighbourhood team covering Mexborough, Edlington and Conisborough areas, with seven for the central team covering the town centre and communities nearby.

Two more will be in the east team, serving Thorne, Moorends and Askern, with three more working in the recently formed prisons investigation team, which is successful in helping to reduce demand on teams working in the town’s communities.