Yesterday I proposed the budget for police and victim services for the coming financial year (April 2023 – March2024) and the precept (council tax) that will be needed to fund it.
I am often asked how much of our funding has to go on what are known as ‘legacy issues’.
The legacy issues relate to the costs of paying for mistakes that were made by South Yorkshire police in the past. There are three:
– Civil claims arising from the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989. Those who were affected are entitled to varying amounts of compensation for what they suffered. Chief among these are the families of those who died at the stadium or subsequently as a result of their injuries. But there were many hundreds of others who suffered physical effects or psychological or emotional trauma.
– Then there were those victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham whom the police failed between 1997 and 2013 and who were the subject of the Jay Report in 2014. They too are eligible for compensation and their claims are also being settled.
– Third is the on-going cost of the National Crime Agency’s investigations into those non-recent cases of CSE.
In each of the above, there are significant costs to the finances of South Yorkshire police and it is hard to believe there is another force in the country that is having to stand three legacy costs of this magnitude at the same time.
Altogether, between now and 2027/28 these costs amount to £121m which we will have to find. This is before we spend a single penny on policing.
Of course, if we had no help at all towards this, the position would be unsustainable. When police forces find themselves in a situation like this they can appeal to the Home Secretary for assistance. She has a fund which she can deploy to help the police in unusual circumstances such as this – called the Special Grant fund. But it is at the Home Secretary’s discretion.
At the moment she has agreed to follow the practice of her predecessors – since this has been going on for some years – and underwrite a substantial part of the costs. Of course, the civils service keeps a close eye on the settlements we reach with each claimant. This coming financial year, for example, we think we will have to find £5.8m towards the legacy costs with the Home Office paying the rest. Even so, on a budget of £317m this is still a great deal of money.
But now, because government finances are in such poor shape and they need to save money centrally to pay down national debts, we are told that the degree of support we may receive for Special Grant will be steadily reduced year on year from 2024 onwards. In 2024/25 that could be over £1m – a not inconsiderable sum which would fall on council tax payers.
This is serious. It will have a big impact on the police budget.
This will be after my present term of office, but in fairness to those who come after, I need to make the position clear. I am hopeful that all our South Yorkshire MPs will join with me in urging the Home Secretary not to reduce the grant. Wherever the funding comes from, it is all public money, but while it is not a huge sum for the Home Office, the impact for policing in South Yorkshire could be very serious indeed.
Reducing the footprint
If we are to make a difference to climate change we all have a part to play – individuals and organisations. And that includes the police. So many congratulations to Danielle Taylor, the Sustainability Manager, and her team who have secured a competitive grant of £536,554 from the government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme for work at Wombwell police station. We then make a capital contribution of £115,000. To be successful, the bid had to include the decarbonisation of the primary heat source, along with additional, optional, energy saving measures which will support a whole building approach to decarbonisation.
The funding will secure:
– 2 ground source heat pumps
– replacement heat emitters and controls
– replacement glazing
– 2 solar panels
– LED lighting
– loft insulation
The work will be completed within the next twelve months.
Over the past twelve months or so many parts of South Yorkshire have benefited from receiving Safer Streets funding, much of it channelled through my office. This is government funding and has been used in a variety of ways to make places safer – better lighting in parks, alley gates between blocks of housing, and so on. There have often been requests for more CCTV, so I was interested to know how extensive the networks are now across some of our districts. We would probably be surprised to know just how many cameras there now are!
Take Doncaster, for example – and you might like to pause for a second and guess at how many cameras there now are across the district before I reveal that.
There are currently more than 1700 cameras owned, managed and maintained by Doncaster borough council.
The service is monitored by a central alarm-receiving centre in the Civic Offices and operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The IT is currently being upgraded so that it is both the latest technology and also compatible with the Government’s digital switchover in 2025, when analogue systems will be phased out.
Whenever I meet local groups concerned about crime or, more often, anti-social behaviour (ASB), they say that CCTV is the answer. It is rarely a complete answer, but it has a valuable role to play. However, it is not cheap. There is little point in installing cameras if they are not going to be serviced and maintained – and there is a rising cost for electricity. In Doncaster district, requests for new cameras are fully costed for a ten year life and the annual maintenance cost and energy supply is currently £1,000 per installation. Examples of what has been done in Doncaster and what is planned include:
– 6 cameras in Edenthorpe Far Field Park, together with additional lighting to improve public safety
– More cameras in town centre locations, such as the railway station and St Sepulchre Gate
– Cameras to come in Stainforth town centre
– 3 Cameras in Lower Wheatley
– 10 re-deployable cameras in Hexthorpe, where there have been issues of fly-tipping as well as ASB.
Among the various types of ASB with which CCTV can assist, one of the most common complaints is that of fly-tipping. Fly-tipping increased noticeably during the Covid restrictions. Cameras have proved useful in more remote areas where people, including commercial operators, have been depositing waste in field entrances, open spaces and bridleways.
CCTV is also reassuring for some of our smaller villages and townships. The strategic installation of cameras at key locations with appropriate signs, can act as an important deterrent.
I noted that last year, Doncaster MBC launched a survey among women to mark International Women’s Day, asking, among other things, what made them feel safer in certain locations. They listed these:
– police presence
– better lighting
So, CCTV may not the sole answer to crime and ASB, but it can be a powerful asset: it assists enforcement, deters bad or criminal behaviour and gives people reassurance.
There are many myths about policing and criminal justice. From time to time they are demolished, though there is often a long delay before the public understands and accepts that. But it is important that they – we – do.
One of the most common and persistent myths is that juries are very reluctant to convict in rape trials. I have heard this asserted many times as people have looked for reasons as to why victims often withdraw from cases before they come to court.
Now a major study by University College, London (UCL), has found that this is untrue.
Academics from UCL have undertaken a huge piece of research, studying every rape case in England and Wales for the past fifteen years. What they found was that juries convicted more than they acquitted. They also found that this was true across all age groups. This confounded another aspect of the myth that juries were reluctant to convict younger defendants, that they didn’t want, say, a student to potentially blight his life at a young age. This also seems to be untrue.
Putting this another way round, it seems that, contrary to what is sometimes said, juries do believe victims of rape.
These findings are important because, as we are all well aware, so few cases of rape result in a charge being brought – about 1 in 60 – let alone a trial and conviction. But if women believe that they will struggle to get juries to believe them and that juries are reluctant to convict, especially if the accused is young, that could well be a factor in why so many women withdraw from the criminal justice process and do not want to continue to trial.
But myths are pernicious and hard to overcome.