Last week was fairly uncomfortable for the police service.
It began with criticisms of the Met over its presumed failing to realise what a danger to women one of its officers posed – until it was all too late. There were calls for the Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, to resign. There will be enquiries and the results may make painful reading. But it soon developed into a more general criticism around police officers abusing their positions of power to gain sexual favours, with accusations that forces were more interested in their reputations than dealing with those officers and safeguarding victims.
In South Yorkshire we understand very well the importance of high standards and ethical behaviour by the police if trust and confidence is to be maintained – and without which policing becomes so much more difficult.
So the contrast could not have been greater when I went to the annual South Yorkshire Police Memorial Service in Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday. This year a new memorial stone was dedicated to the memory of those who have been killed while on duty in our county – a poignant reminder that what motivates the overwhelming majority of our officers is the desire to keep us safe, yet knowing that some have made the greatest of sacrifices as they did so.
I found it very hard to read out the names of those killed on duty in front of their families and fellow officers gathered to remember them.
I have written before in these blogs about the need to restore youth services.
As I start to go around South Yorkshire again, I am starting to notice once more, in the late evening, groups of young people hanging around shops and bus shelters with little or nothing to do – in every part of the county. I’m afraid that some, no doubt out of boredom as much as anything else, will get involved in low level anti-social behaviour. But some will become targets of the drug gangs who are adept at recognising the lonely and vulnerable, drawing them in with the offer of friendship and then the promise of easy money.
This is not something that either my office or the police can do much about, nor the local authorities who this year will face one of their biggest challenges yet in funding social care. But I am surprised that this is not seen as an important part of the government’s levelling up agenda or the agenda for preventing young people being drawn into crime – child criminal exploitation (CCE).
In the past, there would have been not only youth workers in various clubs and centres, but also detached youth workers who were out and about in the community. Those youth workers were role models and confidantes – an older person who was neither a parent nor a teacher, and certainly not a police officer, whom young people could talk to. Ten years of austerity decimated the service and there are now very few young people making youth service their career. (The few youth workers I meet are often now in their forties or more.)
Some parts of the country have suffered even bigger cuts than in South Yorkshire. Gateshead, for example, had a youth budget in 2010 of £6,9m. Last year it was £260,000 – a reduction of 90%. Newcastle was little better: £8m in 2010, £1.5m by 2020.
So why is the link between child criminal exploitation and the collapse of youth services not seen and understood by government? Why is the case for these less privileged young people to be helped to negotiate these difficult teenage years not being made?
I can only assume that unlike other groups who have made a case for funding, the voice of this particular group of more disadvantaged young people is not heard at all. It’s not exactly a vote winner. And those young people from well supported families, who could speak up, but have little need of the youth service, are lending their voices to other important issues – like climate change.
We need a few Greta Thunbergs to realise that climate change is not the only thing that could blight the lives of their generation.
Women’s Aid is a small, South Yorkshire charity, established in 1974, that provides housing for women and children who need a place of safety. Although the accommodation is local, the women, all victims of domestic abuse, can come from anywhere in the country. Sometimes a woman needs to put some distance between herself and her abuser and it is important that charities do not limit their service to those who live locally.
I visited one of their refuges – they have two in this area with 16 and 20 self-contained flats. I was very moved to see how happy the children could be in such a welcoming house, even though many of them, if not all, had witnessed distressing scenes before arriving.
The women do not stay long here. This is temporary accommodation until something more permanent can be found.
I support the police in their work of rescuing women from abusive partners. But I am always acutely aware that without charities such as Women’s Aid the chances of some women getting away and finding the courage and the wherewithal to start afresh is so much more limited. In fact for some, it is probably impossible.
Yet the funding of such charities is never secure.
I received, out of the blue, a letter from a Spanish police force in a town not far from Alicante. The officer writing described himself as ‘responsible for the department of European Projects’. It seems that members of his force would like to visit us to learn about our ways of working and to speak to any Spanish tourists who were in South Yorkshire at the time of any visit – at their expense.
I don’t know whether anything will come of this, but we were able to reply immediately in impeccable Spanish because I have a member of staff who speaks the language and, indeed, has a degree in it. Given our usual British inability to speak anything other than English, for once I felt we were on the moral high ground.
Stay safe and well