The turn of the year is a good time to look back a little and to look forward a little more.
Looking back over 2015
2015 was not an easy year, not least because of two big legacy issues. As Police and Crime Commissioner I first had to help the force come to terms with the findings of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. We have made progress. We put an additional £2.3m into expanding the number of officers working in the Public Protection Unit (which includes CSE); setting up the Victims, Survivors and their Families Panel to advise me and the force; and improving training.
The latest HMIC report on vulnerability acknowledges the difference this has made. The force is better prepared to recognise children at risk; they have good procedures for dealing with children who go missing; and they work well with partner agencies in each local authority area. The inspectors believe that due to ‘strong leadership’ the force is well prepared to respond to child sexual abuse locally and is leading the police response nationally.
Second, persuading the Home Secretary to help with funding the legal costs of officers at the Hillsborough Inquests has only been partially successful. We have had some assistance towards the match commanders costs, but not other officers. What future liabilities there may be will depend on the verdict that comes out of the inquests.
I have used the past year to visit a great number of groups – from town and parish councils to third sector organisations. Thank you for your invitations. It has been good to meet so many people and learn so much about what you all do.
Legal Highs Campaign
I need to place on record my thanks to all those who helped with the legal highs campaign we have been running, aimed particularly at young people. This includes Dan Jarvis MP and the county’s football clubs: Doncaster Rovers, Rotherham United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley Football Club, Doncaster Rovers Belles and ice hockey club the Sheffield Steelers. Elsewhere on the website you can see some of the messages they have been helping us to get across to young people. These drugs may be legal, but that is not the same as saying they are safe. Too many young people are affecting their present and future health by using them.
Looking forward to 2016
The Chancellor’s statement
This caught everyone by surprise. It did not produce the draconian cuts that everyone expected and feared, though savings will still have to be made year on year. This gives a little more room to protect neighbourhood policing – which was becoming very stretched – and work out what the shape of the force should be in the light of changes to the type of crime we are experiencing – fewer burglaries and car thefts; more sexual, serious and cyber crimes – and the increase in demand for police services – especially with vulnerable people. The Chancellor says funding for the police will remain the same each year, but this assumes that we put up the precept year by year by the maximum permitted – £5 per household.
One of the three priorities for the police service in my Police and Crime Plan is ‘Protecting Vulnerable People’. This is going to be even more central in the coming years as social attitudes and demography change. So, for instance, we are becoming more determined as a society to deal with forms of domestic abuse. Not just those who physically attack their partners but those who use psychological and emotional pressure. The police will have to get better at being sensitive to instances of abuse and smarter at capturing evidence so that swift and firm action can be taken. In addition, as we all live longer and become prone to the diseases of ageing – such as dementia – the police will find themselves more and more having to help where people go missing or get lost and forgetful. Doing this work sensitively requires skills of empathy and understanding.
Policing and devolution
Plans seem to be advancing fast to bring in a Sheffield City Region – covering South Yorkshire and parts of north Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. If this happens there will be elections for a mayor in 2017. So far, however, there are no plans to include policing in this. Nor are there plans to take forward the Home Secretary’s apparent wish for the Fire Service to come under Police and Crime Commissioners. But clearly there will be big changes for public services in the next five years.
In 2016 we begin new apprenticeship schemes for ten apprentices in different parts of the force and different parts of South Yorkshire. Ten young people will be able to acquire skills that will equip them for jobs either in the force or in other organisations. If this goes well it is something we can expand and build on.
New Year is a time when large numbers of people go out to enjoy themselves. Sadly, history suggests that this year as in past years, a few occasions of celebration will end with a tragedy. Even small amounts of alcohol impair judgements at the wheel and slow reaction times. So in wishing you a Happy New Year I also wish you a safe one.