PCC Blog 193

Last week announcements came thick and fast.

First, there was the Chancellor with his budget statement. This included a commitment to increase spending overall on public services by 1% above inflation. In practice this meant there were some departments that did rather better than others.

So winners and losers – so called Protected and Unprotected Departments. The Protected departments included the Department of Health – the NHS. The Unprotected included the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice – the police, the courts, the prisons; they face below inflation funding going forward.

It was also made clear that the public sector must improve its productivity: it must do more with fewer human resources. It can do this by making use of new technology, especially AI. There are processes that are currently done by people that could be done by automated technology – and far faster and in greater volume.

This can release people to do other things. However, if cashable savings must be made, that will mean taking out those posts; the workforce will have to be reduced. Since the government requires us to maintain police officer numbers or face financial penalties, any reduction in jobs will have to come from police staff – analysts, or those who work in IT, HR, finance, comms, legal services or force control rooms. We currently have just over 3000 officers and about 2,500 staff. But operational officers need the jobs that staff do to support them!

In addition, new technology is expensive and has to be put in place and paid for before any savings can be realised. Ministers understand this, and, as far as policing goes, a little funding – £230m – is to be made available for all forces over coming years to help improve productivity through technology.

How this will be allocated is yet to be disclosed, but it is not a big sum; most of the funding will have to come from each force’s own resources – which might mean using reserves or borrowing.

These are all serious financial worries for policing. Even more serious are the implications for the courts and prisons. Buildings are crumbling, there are big backlogs of cases, and prisons are overcrowded. But there is an inexorable logic that will make this situation even more testing.

As the 20,000 new police officers complete their initial training and begin duties in response and neighbourhood teams, they will start arresting more suspects. More arrests means more charges which means more trials demanding more court time and adding to backlogs. And potentially more offenders who need to be accommodated in already packed prisons.

Is this too gloomy? Or do we need to think every part of this through before we create at every point the perfect storm?

Rape trials

Which takes us to a second announcement last week, this time from the judiciary. Lord Justice Edis, a Court of Appeal judge, said that where rape cases had been waiting to come to trial for more than two years, this was ‘an unacceptable state of affairs’. It seems that there are 181 such cases nationally. He would, therefore, ask for these to be prioritised in crown courts and for them to be heard before the end of July this year. Some of them would be retrials and some involved children.

The announcement can only be welcomed. The idea that victims – and suspects – have had their lives on hold for more than two years because of court backlogs is appalling. But it will have consequences.

We don’t know at the moment how many such cases there are in our area. But however many, it will lead to some disruption in crown court timetables. Victims, suspects and witnesses in other serious trials may now find that their dates have been put back in order to accommodate the rape trials. We know that the longer it takes to get a case to court, the more risks are run: the memories of witnesses and victims fade or they start to withdraw their co-operation. If more distant courts have to be used, victims and witnesses may struggle to get there.

But is it achievable? We also know that there is a shortage nationally of barristers who are eligible to work on cases of serious sexual offending, and of judges who are similarly qualified to hear them. In London, because of concerns around pay, a large number of these barristers have said they may not be willing to continue working with such cases.

Yet we need these rape trials to be heard as a first step if large numbers of women are to regain trust in the criminal justice system.

Theresa May

Finally, the former Prime Minster announced that she would be leaving parliament at the next election. This stirred some memories for me.

At one critical point during my early years as Police and Crime Commissioner, I was in contact with Mrs May a number of times while she was Home Secretary. The inquests into the Hillsborough football disaster had come to an end, reaching the conclusion that decisions by South Yorkshire police (SYP) had led to the death of 96 supporters – eventually 97. It was also found that in attempts to deflect attention from its own misconduct, SYP had spread stories about the behaviour of Liverpool supporters that were not true. Trust and confidence in SYP sank. Parliament and the media were very hostile.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, told MPs in the House of Commons that the force was ‘rotten to the core’ – and MPs had applauded. We then faced civil litigation for compensation from the families of those who had died, and from other victims. This threatened our ability to meet those claims while maintaining the day to day funding of the force. In fact, without help, we could not pay the compensation and secure balanced budgets. It was a nightmare! I wondered what I had taken on.

But Mrs May agreed to give us Special Grants that would meet 85% of the civil claims – we still had to find the rest. She met me a couple of times in London and rang me twice out of the blue when I was at my desk in Sheffield, to see how I was personally bearing up and to offer moral support.

So whatever my views on Mrs May’s politics, I will always be grateful for that financial help and those kind words over the phone in 2016.


Mrs May also seemed receptive at one point to the idea of some sort of inquiry into the miners’ strike, or at least the incidents at Orgreave in June 1984 – forty years ago this year. But unfortunately she went off to be Prime Minister and the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, firmly ruled this out.

But when I became PCC, I promised the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC), and the former mining communities in South Yorkshire, that I would do whatever I could to help bring the archives from that period together. The archives are those of SYP and so their co-operation was needed. We have had that co-operation, especially since Tim Forber became Deputy Chief Constable – and I thank him for what he has done in this respect as he now leaves to become Chief Constable of North Yorkshire.

I was, therefore, somewhat taken aback when BBC Look North ran with a story just over a week ago in which it was alleged that SYP were still ‘covering up’ and not opening the archives to the public. The real story could hardly be more different. This is the outline of what has been done.

– All SYP buildings were searched for files relating to the strike. (These go back to the days of physical record keeping and storage, so dusty boxes in dusty cupboards.)

– The archives were brought together and deposited in Sheffield City Council archives. (They include paper files but also photographs, DVDs and other old technology.)

– I funded an archivist to work full-time first on reading through and cataloguing all the material, then on digitising it so that it is available electronically. This cost £340,000 and took a couple of years or so.

– Finally, the archive is now being redacted so that any material that is not aligned with GDPR requirements (protecting privacy), cannot be read. (There are, for example, some personal medical records in the archive.)

Storing, cataloguing, digitising and now reading through 83,000 pages and redacting comes at a price, so we need to balance these costs against the day to day needs of the force. This work will be finished next year. Throughout these years we hoped that the government would agree an inquiry and this work could be nationally funded and the pace quickened.

So I think the real story of the Orgreave archives is not one of ‘continuing cover up’ or not wanting to open up the archive, as the BBC presented it, but the very opposite.

I guess ‘SYP making steady progress in opening the Orgreave archives to the public’ is not such a good story or headline.

Stay safe