Police bosses have been told to find double the 40 new neighbourhood officers expected in South Yorkshire next year by angry councillors who believe residents deserve to see more for the extra 14 per cent they will pay towards running the force from April.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings is to increase the precept – money collected for policing as part of the Council Tax bill – by the maximum allowed by the Government, which in cash terms is £24 more for a house in ‘band D’.
That budget allows for another 55 officers to be recruited, expanding the size of the force for the first time since 2004, with 40 of them to be channelled into the recently established neighbourhood policing teams.
South Yorkshire’s council leaders agreed the budget before it was announced by Dr Billings but the county’s Police and Crime Panel, made up largely of councillors from the four districts, have rebelled and told the commissioner that isn’t enough.
They expect 90 fresh officers to join the neighbourhood teams to provide residents with more for their money.
The decision throws into focus the problems faced by South Yorkshire Police and Dr Billings, who has the job of balancing the impact of increased costs on the residents of the county while providing a policing service they expect.
The Police and Crime Panel is a ‘watchdog’ body which is able to hold the PCC to account and the situation which has emerged in South Yorkshire illustrates the reality of the Government’s decision to lump increasing responsibility of paying for policing on local communities, rather than Whitehall.
South Yorkshire Police rely on Home Office assistance with ‘special grants’, one off payments to meet old liabilities which include legal bills and compensation payments resulting from the Hillsborough disaster and the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal.
If the increased charge to the public was less than the maximum the Home Office allows next year, the fear is the applications for those payments could be rejected, effectively leaving Dr Billings with little room to manoeuvre.
Coun Stuart Sansome, deputy chairman of the crime panel, told Dr Billings: “We totally understand the gun put against your heads, financially, by the Government. You have been told to put the money up.
“We don’t want to be in this position. It is something which has never been done before.”
But he went on to read a statement from the panel, which said: “We cannot agree with the meagre recruitment of on 40 into neighbourhood policing.
“We would like to see the number increase by 90, whether it is officers or PCSOs.”
He also alluded to “commercially sensitive” opportunities to raise money, which could not be discussed in a public meeting.
“I cannot repeat enough how we commend you for bringing neighbourhood officers back,” he said.
“We don’t feel the number is achievable for making residents safe and bringing crime down.
“Trust and confidence in South Yorkshire Police is disappearing at a rate of knots, despite officers working tirelessly in their communities.
“Residents across the the four areas are absolutely skint. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They have to be kept safe,” he said.
Dr Billings told the panel: “You are approving the precept but then asking me to spend some money which I have not got.
“You have got me into an impossible position.
“I will take your comments back to the chief constable and you can hope he will get the numbers up even more than he is going to.
“But unless you find an increase in money which is sustainable, then it is a very difficult place you put us into.”