PCC Blog 54

Last week more public figures found themselves in trouble for things they had posted on social media in the days of their youth.

How they regretted the foolish things they had said and done then. But the damage was done. So how do we stop young people doing things that could come back to haunt them in later life?

While parents and teachers will do what they can, young people are less likely to listen to adults than they are their peers. Perhaps this is one of the lessons to learn from what has happened with climate change. Children and young people have listened to Greta Thunberg in a way they would never have listened to any adult – even the adult scientists on whom Greta relies. (Of course, part of Greta’s appeal was that she reversed the normal order of things: this was a child telling adults how to behave responsibly.)

Now we need a teenage Anders Andersson who will warn his peers about the dangers of doing foolish things on social media. They might listen to him.

Children are the messages we send into a future we shall never see. But our children are posting their own messages for that future – which they and many others will see, and sooner than they think.

Just when we thought hot desks were a thing of the past

Coronavirus has had some interesting – as well as utterly devastating – consequences, not least in the area of employment.

I think we all know that older patterns of people being either at work or at home have been seriously eroded. We have discovered what some always knew: it is possible for many of us to work at home, For some of the time at least. As a former vicar and then academic, I never doubted it! But for those running an office it requires new thinking. This is why the police are looking hard at what it will mean for the workforce in a post-coronavirus world.

This mainly concerns police staff. Clearly, there will always be some jobs in the force that cannot be done from home. A custody suite cannot be run remotely. But what about call handling? For this reason the force is currently taking a long hard look at which jobs are possible to be done at least some of the time from home. My own office is doing the same.

So the force is surveying staff to see what their individual preferences might be and how compatible that is with an effectively functioning organisation.

Of course, many people want to come back to the office, at least for some of the time. It’s important for their own mental health and well-being. If we work from home, we have to be very disciplined about when we are working and when not. I have seen too many emails arriving with a send time in the small hours. We can’t all be insomniacs, and even if we are, I don’t think opening up the laptop is the way to overcome it. Stick to camomile tea. On the other hand, working from home seems to have been good for many people’s physical health: the sickness rate fell during the lock-downs – an efficiency saving if not a cashable one. (There have been cashable savings during this time – on travel and transport, for example.)

I also note that when people were asked whether they thought they had been more or less productive during this past year, most thought they had worked harder – a significant efficiency saving; though that is a subjective judgement.

But we have also realised how much business is actually transacted informally in casual encounters and conversations. It would be tedious if everything had to be done via a video call or an email all the time. But we may not need everyone in the office all the time, and that has implications for desks and computers.

So, as far as workforce planning goes, the virus has got us to a place which we might have reached eventually, though not this quickly. However, re-configuring the office is one thing, re-fashioning the mind-set and the culture will be more demanding and take longer.

 Virus and Precept

One worrying effect of the virus and its impact on the local economy has been the fall in revenue that the local authorities collect – principally council tax. This is worrying for me as PCC on two counts.

First, because 30% of our funding comes from these local resources – the precept – so there will be less income available to us. And second, because it is government policy (not always explicitly stated) to shift the burden of paying for services like the police increasingly onto the council tax payer and away from central government. If the council tax base is shrinking, and those losses are not going to be made up by central government through grant, the logical conclusion is that even more will have to be raised from the precept to bridge the gap.

This might not be such a big deal in Surrey, but in South Yorkshire, council tax is a fixed cost that more and more people are struggling with.

New Chief, New Challenge

You will know by now that the Police and Crime Panel supported my decision to ask Lauren Poultney to be the South Yorkshire Chief Constable. As I said to the Panel, this was now the second time I had appointed a chief constable. Each time the new chief faced a challenge, but a different one.

In 2016 I asked Stephen Watson to lead a force that had just been told by HM Inspectors that it ‘required improvement’. Under his leadership, and with his senior team, the workforce was motivated and is now a ‘good’ performing force. I am now asking Lauren to maintain the momentum of incremental improvement – towards ‘outstanding’ – without falling back. I don’t underestimate that different challenge.

I also told the Panel that one thing the new chief and her team had to do was to make sense of the new, post-coronavirus world: what was happening to crime and anti-social behaviour, what was happening to communities, what was happening to working practices. In addition, there was the happy challenge of having over the next few years so many new but – by definition – relatively inexperienced officers. If these challenges are to be met successfully, I have no doubt that we need a chief and senior command team who have not only operational experience but also, and crucially, the capacity to think forward and understand what that new future will look like.

Building that new team around her is the first and most urgent challenge.

Stay safe and well.