PCC Blog 179

Signs of the Times

For several weeks now, South Yorkshire police have been managing pro-Palestinian protests.

Numbers on those protests in Sheffield, at least, have gradually increased – from 50 to 100 to 500 to over 1,000 – with other smaller protests as well. These marches and rallies have been mirrored not only across this country but around the world. UK police forces, our own included, have learnt to distinguish between the Palestinian flag, which it is lawful to display, and the flags and symbols of Hamas or Hezbollah, which are unlawful – they are proscribed organisations – and which chants and slogans may constitute a hate crime.

So far, at the time of writing – the weekend – there have been few incidents here and few arrests. I have not felt the need to ask our Independent Policing Protests Panel to turn out to observe. Few arrests, however, does not mean none, and there may be more if the humanitarian pauses come to an end and hostilities are renewed with a new intensity. Passions may become more inflamed.

Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes have risen across the country, with anti-Semitism showing the biggest increase. But while hate incidents impact on both communities, the pro-Palestinian marches affect them as well, though differently– and I’ve been reflecting on that.

For members of the Muslim community, whatever their ethnicity, the protests have brought them together and given them a new confidence as British citizens. For them, the attack by Israel on the Gazans is an attack on the ummah – the world-wide community of Islam. They want to stand together in solidarity. This was the burden of the speeches in the ‘ceasefire’ debate in the House of Commons by Muslim MPs, and the many more that have been delivered at rallies up and down the country – speeches and sentiments that have been supported by others who are not Muslims. In contrast, there have been few rallies in support of those Israeli families who have had loved ones massacred or kidnapped.

(We might note in passing that the protests have also shown to the country as a whole the salience of religion for the identity of a large group of British citizens, something that may have been true of a more Christian nation in the past, but is not true now.)

These pro-Palestinian rallies have also had an impact on the much smaller Jewish community too – something different from the effect that hate crimes have. Hate crimes can be seen as the work of a few; but the rallies point to the attitudes and sensibilities of many. The realisation of this by some Jews is having an effect that is below the radar. It is not something that can be recorded and is very difficult to capture. Again, I think it goes to the question of identity.

While the protests have strengthened the identity of Muslims as confident British citizens, my guess is that they are having an opposite effect on the Jewish community. They have seen the placards and heard the speeches at the rallies, including some that strayed into the territory of supporting a proscribed organisation. They note how those speeches mainly by-pass or ignore the events of 7 October and focus only on Israel’s military response or the wider issue of Palestinian rights. This must leave some in the Jewish community wondering how they are viewed by significant numbers of UK citizens. It has led some to question their very identity as British citizens.

The Jewish journalist Tanya Gold summed this up rather bleakly last week when she wrote that the events of 7 October ‘have forever changed my relationship with my country’. She feels ill at ease, unsure whether the one country in Europe that does not have a roll of names at Yad Vashem (the museum in Jerusalem listing those killed in the holocaust) is as welcoming now as it was when we resisted the Nazis.

We can define and deal with hate crimes, and it is important to do so. But they may not tell the whole story or indeed the most important story. This underlying feeling of unwelcome by at least some in the Jewish community is no less pernicious.

The Autumn Statement: implications for policing

The Autumn Statement last week will have two consequences for policing – one direct and one indirect.

First, the direct. It didn’t take long for the Institute for Fiscal Studies – a respected financial think tank – to tell us where the money for tax cuts was coming from. As the Director, Paul Johnson, said: ‘Put another way, the tax cuts are paid for by planned real cuts in public service spending.’ In other words, we are heading for a second period of austerity.

The problem is inflation at a time of low or no growth. Although high inflation this year has boosted government finances – higher tax takes from VAT and higher wages – the additional revenue from this is not being used to support public services but to fund tax cuts – in National Insurance (from 12% to 10%) and by removing the tax penalty on capital investment for business.

Whereas some government departments will be to some extent protected from the impact of inflation – the NHS, education, defence, overseas aid, childcare – the settlements for the so-called ‘unprotected’ government departments will not be enough to meet cost pressures. That includes the Home Office and so policing. Over the next few years, therefore, there will be a squeeze on funding for policing. The government may think that this can be compensated for by allowing more to be taken in council tax, but the poorer areas of the country, like South Yorkshire, where most properties are in Bands A-C, are simply unable to raise the sums needed. Policing is going to struggle.

If savings have to be found above and beyond what is already factored into our forward planning, and if those sums are large, then sooner or later that area of the budget where most of the money is spent with have to be reduced – and that is jobs. And that presents a problem.

If the government requires the number of police officers to be maintained at the current agreed level – 3039 for SYP – then reductions will have to come from police staff. But police staff are people who make the job of the police officer possible – such as call handlers (dealing with 999 and 101 calls) and analysts (who track where crime hot spots are), as well as those who maintain IT or ensure officers are paid or vetted, and so on. There will also be a temptation to save money where possible by filling staff posts as they become vacant with police officers rather than recruiting new civilian staff – which will reduce the numbers available for front line duties.

The public will be largely unaware of this happening. They will only realise over time that the service is not getting any better. Criminal gangs, however, will soon recognise what is happening as they did during the last period of austerity when they were able to extend their drug networks.

The second consequence of the Autumn Statement for policing arises from the indirect impact of the cuts that are coming to other public services. We saw what happened in the first ten-year period of austerity to so many of our communities in South Yorkshire as local services began to fray.

To take one example. Last time, as I went round the smaller towns and villages and some of our bigger estates, especially on dark and foggy winter nights, I was often acutely aware of the number of young people who seemed to have little to do and nowhere to go. They hung around in bus shelters and by park benches. When I spoke to them, they told me that they had only an occasional relationship with school and didn’t see education as a route to a worthwhile job. They encountered few adults who could inspire and encourage them.

The degradation of so much youth provision at that time was a disaster. It made whole swathes of young people ready targets for criminal gangs. We surely do not want to see this happen again with another generation – for their sake but also for ours. But on present trends, it will.

We saw last week in Dublin how disaffected young people, who feel left behind and left out, can so easily and so suddenly turn their frustrations and anger onto all whom they see as the authorities. And in some parts of the county we have begun to see some warning signs – with attacks not just on the police but the fire and ambulance services as well.

Am I reading these signs right? Am I Cassandra?

Or just Victor Meldrew.

Consulting

Each year I consult the public of South Yorkshire on two matters – the priorities for policing that I want to see in the Police and Crime Plan for the coming financial year and how much people are willing to pay for police services. The latter consultation is a statutory requirement.

It would be very helpful, therefore, if you would be willing to complete the consultation. You can find it here: https://shorturl.at/klqA6

Stay safe