This is the time of year when I have to set the budget for the force and determine the precept – the share of council tax that will go towards policing and victims’ services.
I have two competing pressures on me.
On the one hand, I want to ensure that the Chief Constable has the resources the force needs to keep us safe in the coming year. This year that means, among other things, being able to increase officer numbers and take the force forward in terms of digital technology. The first of these is easier to explain to the public, because they can see where the money is going in high visibility jackets – ‘bobbies on the beat’.
But new technology – which is expensive – is also vital if those police officers are to do their job. It means that they will be able to access all the information they need and make reports through mobile devices wherever they are: they won’t need to go back and forth to a police station. But the public do not see the technology, the systems, that make this possible. This is a pressure that adds to costs.
The other pressure is the opposite. South Yorkshire has faced tough economic times ever since the coal mining and steel industries collapsed in the 1980s. Now the coronavirus is devastating livelihoods as well as lives. So I am acutely aware that many in our communities struggle with bills; and council tax is a fixed cost for them. We can, to some extent, control how much we spend on many household bills; but not council tax. So I need to keep that as low as I can.
Today (Wednesday 3 February) I took my proposal to the Police and Crime Panel who must consider it. I am pleased that they voted unanimously in favour of the proposal after consideration and questions
As I look at the figures, though, I do notice this. Council tax increases are conventionally announced in terms of what it means for a property in Band D – because this is roughly where most properties will be across the country. But in South Yorkshire, most properties are in lower Bands – A, B and C. These are the figures:
Properties in each Band by % in South Yorkshire:
The approval of the precept today means that it will increase by £15 on a Band D property next year (an increase of 7.5%) – or 29p per week. For Band A properties the rise will be 19p per week, Band B 22p and Band C 26p. In addition, many in these lower Bands would be eligible for some council tax relief.
In other words, most council taxpayers will have to find less than 20p per week to secure the uplift in police numbers and improved technology next year.
So weighing up what to do is a complex calculation in understanding the consequences for policing and victims’ services, and also people’s finances, of any decisions made.
Not social workers, not therapists, but ….
From time to time I get emails and letters from people saying they support the police in cracking down on crime, but not when they become ‘social workers’ or ‘therapists’. ‘This is not what I pay for,’ one person wrote.
I agree that social work should be done by social workers and therapy by therapists: the police are not trained to be either. But increasingly in their work the police are called upon to show skills that are often not dissimilar to those of the ‘caring professions’.
I had an email last week, for example, from someone whose elderly father had been the victim of a telephone scam. He lost around £3,000. She wanted to thank the officer who had called and helped her father and the family. ‘The advice (he) provided my father, and us as a family was invaluable.’
The officer had helped the father re-gain his self-confidence – he had been burdened by the thought that he had been uniquely foolish in falling for the fraudster – and helped the family to see what they could do to ensure nothing like this happened again. The officer, she said, ‘… was so caring, compassionate and understanding, and treated my father with kindness, more like a friend than a victim of crime.’
No, not social workers or therapists, but not automata either.
What’s been happening to victims during the restrictions?
Since 2014, Police and Crime Commissioners have had a responsibility for commissioning services for the victims of crime. They need support, especially if they have to go to court to give evidence. I have brought together funding from various funding streams to create a Victims of Crime Fund of £2.8m. I need to ensure that victims of crime are treated well and as required by the Victims’ Code. The coronavirus suddenly made things very difficult.
Busy courts had to become Covid compliant. The need for social distancing created significant problems for managing this – at the entrances, at toilets, in the courtroom, in jury rooms. Rooms had to be reconfigured. A court might have to sit in more than one room and use video technology. Jury members had to have perspex screens between them. For a time, the crown court came to a complete halt. All this led to delays and backlogs, and when there are long delays between a crime happening and offenders being brought to trial, victims and other witnesses can fall away.
There were problems for the organisations that support victims as well. Support workers were often unable to call on victims in person. But many victims need considerable support if they are to give evidence. Courts can be intimidating places for those who are unused to them. And the victim of, say, domestic abuse will have to come, give evidence and face cross examination in the presence of the offender. Or a witness may be a child or someone with learning difficulties. Suddenly new ways of giving support had to be found.
The organisations that help have often had to find extra funding to enable them to adapt. I am glad to say that the commissioning team in my office has worked really hard to bid for extra government funding. As I write this, they have currently secured £1.7m for Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence support. My thanks to them.
Coronavirus has claimed many victims. I am determined that, as far as possible, victims of crime will not be further victimised or their needs overlooked as a result of it. And I have a member of staff who monitors this all the time.
I’m glad I’m not trypanophobic – having a fear of needles – otherwise I would find it impossible to watch TV news on any channel at any time of day or night at present. Every bulletin has someone, somewhere being jabbed.
I hope you are staying safe and well.