PCC Blog 122

Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) students are taking over Sheffield’s bus station! They are attempting to ‘re-animate’ it!

I went last week to the launch of their project.

The bus station first opened in 1936 and was rebuilt in the 1990s. But in recent years it has been used less as a city centre stopping point for bus services and footfall has fallen. The retail units are now almost all empty. It has a forlorn feel to it. As a result, it is a less than welcoming place. The students (and the university) believe they can make it come alive again. It is, of course, situated next to SHU’s central campus.

The idea is that the South Yorkshire Mayor’s Office and SHU will enlist some 400 students from 14 different courses to think imaginatively about how they might do something in this public space that will brighten up the place, create a more positive image and increase its use.

My interest, and that of the police, was in seeing somewhere that can attract anti-social behaviour and some low-level criminality become a brighter, more used and so safer place to be. The police from the central neighbourhood team are committed to drop in at the interchange more regularly and the Designing Out Crime Officer (DOCO) will also be asked to give advice on how to make it a safer place. From time to time there will also be a pop-up Police Station.

The launch consisted of speeches by the Mayor’s representative and university staff and a play performed by drama students – with great confidence and gusto Around the walls were posters showing some colourful items of fashion and some imaginative re-designs for the interchange – done by students in appropriate disciplines. This is the idea – to use the space and to re-imagine it for the future.

As the Mayor’s officer said, if this works in Sheffield, they would look to do something similar in the other interchanges in Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.

The three Cs – clear, coherent and credible

In a blog two weeks ago after the disastrous mini-budget I predicted that when the government was finally forced to confront financial reality, public spending cuts would start. I wrote this:

“If one of the departments that has to ‘save’ – make do with less – is the Home Office, where most of the money for policing comes from, will that ‘saving’ be passed on to police and crime commissioners and chief constables…. If the Home Office is squeezed, ministers will squeeze us in turn. Then we have a choice. We can reduce our spending – do less – or use our reserves or put up our local tax, or a combination of the three. What we cannot do, of course, is what the government intends to do: massive borrowing for day-to-day spending. We have a debit not a credit card.”

This is all turning out to be horribly true.

How quickly the financial picture has changed. A year ago we were thanking the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, and the government for producing a three-year spending review that allowed us to plan ahead over a longer period of time with a reasonable degree of certainty. Now everything has been thrown in the air and as we sit down to plan the budget for April 2023-March 2024 we have no idea yet what government grant is going to be or what we should write in for inflation or the cost of borrowing.

Things can only get better? We hope. But if the new chancellor’s proposals, which will be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility on 31 October, don’t pass the three ‘C’s test, we are in trouble. Like all budgets and financial statements they must be clear (we know what is being proposed without areas of ambiguity), coherent (all the moving parts must hang together) and credible (it must all look feasible in the real world). The mini-budget failed on each count. We breathlessly wait for the end of the month.

In the meantime, we have to assume it will be bad news on each count: grant will not be sufficient to cover for inflation (currently at 10%); careful decisions will have to be made around future staffing; more will be needed by way of savings; there will be little to help us from the reserves; and decisions about the precept are not going to be easy.

Ageing plusses

Statistics from the national Census have been gradually emerging since the summer. Each time new data is released we will need to think about what the implications might be, not least for policing and crime.

The overall size of the population has risen from 56 million in 2011 to almost 60 million in 2021. It is expected to reach 70 million within five years. England is now the second most densely populated country in Europe after the Netherlands.

Within that increase, the number of over 65s surged by 20% to just over 11 million. At the same time, the number of young people under the age of 15 fell below this to just over 10 million. In some parts of Yorkshire, the increase in the number of over 65s was very dramatic. In Richmondshire in North Yorkshire one in four people are now pensioners – double what was the case in 1981. While in Norfolk this rises to one in three. Similarly, in South Yorkshire there is a growth in the number and proportion of over 65s, though nothing like that of Norfolk. (The contrast would be with places like Barking where 31% of the population is under 19, and Birmingham where it is 28%.)

But we should not assume that ‘Working Age’ stops at 64. This is now ‘middle age’ – something that is borne out by research carried out by the International Institute for Applied Systems in Vienna for the United Nations on ‘characteristic-equivalent ages’. They looked at both physical health and cognitive ability and found that most people in Japan, the USA, Norway and Lithuania were middle aged until at least 75. In the UK, one in four people are now ‘un-retiring’ and going back to work, sometimes many years after leaving. Older people are now the fastest growing segment of the employed. In the USA, more than one quarter of the staff of CVS Health, the country’s biggest pharmacy chain, are over 50.

I often visit small towns and villages across the county where local life – churches, clubs, town and parish councils, voluntary groups of all kinds –  is sustained by energetic retirees. One of the things we have learned as the population has aged during the past decade, is not to assume that ageing automatically means that someone ceases to be able to make a contribution to community activities. That is clearly untrue.

Much of the police focus as far as older people are concerned are with the negatives – they may be more open to scams and fraud. True, but the police also need to see an opportunity here in the way they recruit and deploy post-retirement volunteers. I was recently contacted by someone who volunteers for the force. They were very thoughtful about how they were being used. I hope the force will think about what they wrote and be more imaginative in seeing how the experience and skills of volunteers can be put to best use.

It also raises another question. Why, in this day and age, when policing has changed so much and people are living longer and more actively, do we still have police officers retiring after thirty years’ service. They are still relatively young, with years of invaluable experience behind them and years of potential service in front of them. Surely not everyone wants to fill their days on a golf course or Mediterranean cruise?

(I fear I will get emails.)