When does the New Year begin?
For schoolchildren and students it’s September – the academic year. (Though the university I went to started in October and had three eight week terms. Just enough time to unpack the trunk British Road Services had delivered before you had to start packing again.) The financial year starts in April. The Church’s liturgical year begins with Advent Sunday, usually in December. The Chinese New Year will be in February. And so on.
But everyone seems to see this calendar month as a time to look back and then look forward. So when I look back over 2021 as Police and Crime Commissioner what do I notice?
There have been many significant changes in personnel this year, but I will just comment on the changes at the top of the organisation. This year we said farewell to Stephen Watson as he left to become Chief Constable in Greater Manchester. In his place I appointed Lauren Poultney, the first female Chief.
When I asked Stephen Watson to head the service here we set a clear goal. South Yorkshire Police (SYP) had been struggling ever since the scandals of the Hillsborough inquest verdicts and the aftermath of the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. We needed to get SYP into a better place. The Chief said he would need five years to do it, and over five years this is what he and his colleagues achieved. Her Majesty’s Inspectors had rated SYP as ‘requires improvement’ in 2016. By the time the Chief left for Manchester, SYP were rated as ‘good’ overall and ‘outstanding’ in terms of their ethical leadership. This was speedy and real progress, but it had required a lot of hard and relentless work. And then coronavirus happened.
When I appointed the new Chief, therefore, we were in a different place. We agreed that we should be no less ambitious, but there was a need to ensure that all the good practice that had been recognised by the Inspectors was fully and sustainably embedded. We needed a period of stability and careful attention to the fundamentals of good policing. We also needed to understand just how draining the last two years of the coronavirus have been on the well-being of officers and staff. All this, it seems to me, is a no less demanding challenge than the one the previous Chief faced; but it is different.
The previous Chief spoke about the ‘journey to outstanding’. I would have called the next phase ‘back to basics’ if those three words had not been tarnished in the political scandals of the 1990s. ‘Attention to fundamentals’ doesn’t have the same ring to it. But that is now the agenda. Making sure that the ‘good’ that has been achieved is truly grounded and becomes business as usual.
Happy New Year.