Each year I receive from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) a sum of money to commission services, principally for victims of crime. These services are delivered by organisations in the voluntary sector. They include, for example, those that support victims of sexual assaults (rapes) and domestic abuse and those trying to overcome addictions. Last year this core grant came to £1.8m.
But sometimes the government makes other sums of money available on a one off basis to enhance the work of these organisations. This seems to be a growing trend. This funding, however, usually has to be applied for – on a competitive basis: there is no guarantee that the bid will be successful. While all additional funding for these vital services is welcome, it does involve my staff and staff in other organisations in both the public and voluntary sectors, in a lot of extra work writing the bids that may, in the end, come to nothing. In addition, because the funding is, usually, for one year only, it may have a limited effect.
To give some idea of the funding – and work – involved in making and securing these bids I set out below what we received last year from the various funds. We succeeded in most of our bids.
Safer Streets Fund 4: £737,560. This was Home Office funding to reduce anti-social behaviour in hotspot areas in Barnsley and Rotherham with additional CCTV and lighting in parks.
National Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) Fund: £590.574 (MoJ). An additional 6 ISVAs, 3 Children’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisers, 9 IDVAs for those with complex needs, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ.
Funding for additional IDVAs and ISVAs: £427,092. This enabled the recruitment of additional IDVAs and ISVAs across South Yorkshire to support victims/survivors, including those who were: disabled and those who were male.
Perpetrator Phase 4: £656,069. Home Office funding towards a programme to change the behaviour of domestic abusers and increase victim safety.
Community-based services for victims of Domestic Abuse or Sexual Violence: £636,564 (MoJ). Support includes counselling and specialist support for older people, children and male victims of domestic abuse.
This is over £3m of funding for vital services to people in South Yorkshire which would not have come into the county without a great deal of painstaking work, often against tight deadlines, by people in my office, in the local authorities and in the voluntary sector. Their work is not always as appreciated as it should be.
Policing in India
Last week I noted that Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire Police were hosting a visit from senior police officers, men and women, from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. I was able to meet them and hear a little about the challenges they face in their police force area with its population of 72m, some living in large cities of over 1m but many in rural communities.
They have no equivalent of an elected Police and Crime Commissioner in India and I had to explain very carefully that while I have a role in setting police priorities and holding the force to account on behalf of the people of South Yorkshire, I take no operational decisions: these are matters for the Chief Constable. I also took care to explain that on becoming the Commissioner I took an oath to serve all the people of the county, whether they voted for me or not, without fear or favour. I think they accepted all of that, but the idea that a politician and not a group of police officers should appoint the Chief Constable was something they were not at all sure about.
I also noted last week an initiative in another part of India, the coastal state of Goa. They have a group of female officers dedicated to ‘prevent crimes against women and children’ which they call the Pink Force. They have cars with ‘Pink Force’ written on them so they can be distinguished from other police vehicles. I learnt a little more about them.
There are 250 officers in the Pink Force, offering a 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year service. They have eleven vehicles patrolling and if a woman calls for help, they aim to reach her within five minutes.
These officers are able to do this because they are not involved in any subsequent investigation of crimes. Their job is to prevent crimes against women and children wherever possible and to support victims. They are trained in counselling. They seek to encourage mothers and children to talk to them, recognising that they might not be willing to talk to the ‘officers in khaki’.
Goa is the first state to have a Pink Force but others may follow.
The need to do more to protect and safeguard women and girls is recognised not just in this country but in many countries, with each tackling it in their own way. But as far as I am aware, the Pink Force is unique to India.
The Sheffield Trees controversy was a traumatic time for the city of Sheffield, considerably damaging the reputation of the city council and upsetting many residents. It was also blown out of all proportion as the story was told nationally and indeed internationally. I had friends who live elsewhere in the country commiserating with me because I lived in a city that was now without trees.
I was alarmed because, as the dispute became more fractious, the police were increasingly drawn in. My attempts to reason with senior councillors and officials were rebuffed.
The council commissioned an inquiry into the dispute, chaired by Sir Mark Lowcock, which reported earlier this year. He found that the council had not conducted themselves well and, among other things, said they should apologise to residents generally and to some individuals and organisations specifically.
Last Monday the council did that with a remarkably full and frank acceptance that it had made mistakes, needed to say sorry, and hoped for a new era of properly listening to and engaging with citizens with openness and transparency. It was an astonishing statement, noticed by the national media as well as the local. The new leader of the council, Councillor Tom Hunt, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Today along with a spokesperson for the Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) – who were also criticised in the report for some of the more extreme behaviour of some protestors.
The apology to the police and myself is in the report presented to the council’s Strategy and Resources Policy Committee, Monday 19 June 2023. The relevant paragraph is below:
Agenda Item 5. 18.b. South Yorkshire Police and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings.
The Inquiry made it clear that the council placed the police in an invidious position during the dispute. At times the council placed undue pressure on the police and did not do enough to find alternative solutions to the dispute or to play a visible role on the streets during the protests. The Police and Crime Commissioner called for a political resolution to the dispute several times – his advice should have been heeded.
Apology accepted. Time now to move on.