To put questions, if any, to the designated Members on the discharge of functions of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority and South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 11(5).
(1) Councillor Cowles referred to residents of South Yorkshire, including Rotherham, contributing an additional £7 million approximately in Council Tax via the increased Police precept this year so asked could the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel Representative explain how many additional Police Officers have now been recruited and were in training?
Councillor Sansome explained that from 1st April, 2019 to 31st March, 2023 the strength of the Police Force would see an increase of 743 officers of which 220 have been funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner in the precept.
In the year 2019/20 the numbers would increase by 88, which was an increase from that proposed by the Police and Crime Commissioner of 55 when he asked for an increase in the precept by 14%. The Police and Crime Panel refused on the basis that the figure be increased to 90.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles asked about latest crime figures when knife crime and sexual offences were on the increase. He had attended the meeting of the Police and Crime Panel before Christmas, but asked when did the Panel discuss issues and held the relevant people to account. Should this not be on every agenda so that everyone could see the challenge for poor or lack of performance?
Councillor Sansome pointed out that had Councillor Cowles joined the Panel he would have seen for himself. However, whilst he regularly asked questions at Panel meetings the role of the Police and Crime Panel was to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner to account not the Police Constable. This was the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the various Boards.
(2) Councillor Carter asked what was the average waiting time for a 101 telephone call to be answered when the telephone call-back service was not in use and how did that compare to when the service was in use?
Councillor Sansome explained he himself had asked this question at the Police and Crime Panel and believed the service should be in operation 24/7 and not when the Force saw fit. This was not straightforward because the call back facility was not in continuous use, but was used by management when calls could not be answered within a reasonable length of time. The new IT allowed screens to be on display giving real-time information to managers about how many calls were queuing. If waiting time becomes unduly long, the call back facility was switched on.
Demand varies greatly throughout the week. During the period September-November, on an average day, Atlas Court received 2383 calls of which 1624 were 101 and 759 were 999. The average wait times were 2 minutes and 5 seconds when answered by the switchboard and 10 minutes and 25 seconds if passed to a call handler.
The Police and Crime Commissioner had arranged for Members of the Police and Crime Panel to visit Atlas Court on 10th February, 2020 to gain a better understanding of the different ways now open to the public to contact the Force and Councillor Carter was invited to join the Panel on this visit.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked at what point do managers of the 101 call answering service think it was a reasonable time waiting for a call to be answered when the average time from the switchboard was 2 mins and 5 seconds yet 10 mins from a call handler. It seemed a very long time to be kept on hold.
Councillor Sansome would have to seek further information on this, but suggested that if Councillor Carter wanted to attend Atlas Court on the 10th February he could ask the Police and Crime Commissioner or the Assistant Chief Constable himself.
(3) Councillor Carter understood the Pensions Authority continued to invest funds with businesses that conducted fracking and other non-renewable energy sources. As the Council had now declared a climate emergency would the Council’s representatives be lobbying for changes to the scheme so that pensions no longer funded climate change and adopted a more ethical investment policy?
Councillor Atkin confirmed the Pensions Authority did lobby, but did have investments in oil and gas companies, although the volume of such investments and the overall level of carbon emissions from investments have reduced in recent years. This was shown in the Authority’s Annual Report and in the Responsible Investment sections on the Authority’s website and they would be discussed at the meeting tomorrow.
It was important to understand that Elected Members appointed to the Pensions Authority owed a fiduciary duty to the members of the Fund. This meant that they must act in the best interests of the members of the Fund and this was generally defined in financial terms.
The Pensions Authority recognised Climate Change as the most significant long-term risk (and opportunity) facing it in the area of investment. Its current policy was to focus on engaging with companies in order to release the capital tied up in carbon intensive businesses to fund a just transition to a low carbon economy. Collective action by shareholders in this area had had some success in recent years with Shell and BP among others, although faster progress was necessary.
The Authority did invest positively to support the low carbon transition particularly in the field of renewable energy, with approximately 1% of the Fund currently committed in this area.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter referred to 1% of the fund committed to renewable and low carbon sources so asked were there plans to increase this and as investments had reduced in oil and gas investment was there a plan and strategy to get this to zero during the next few years.
Councillor Atkin confirmed this was the case. Investments were often long term and decisions were made to look after the 160,000 members. The Pension Fund was worth £8.4 billion which made it the seventh largest pension fund in Britain.
(4) Councillor Carter asked did the Fire Authority have plans to reduce the size of its frontline workforce in the next two years?
Councillor Taylor explained the Authority had no plans or desire to cut its frontline workforce. After a decade of continual cuts any future funding may be reduced. However, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s financial settlement for 2020/21 meant it was unlikely the Service would have to make further reductions to its workforce within that period.
The Fire Service had recruited 24 new Fire Officers who would start training in June. However, with only receiving short term annual funding, the Authority were unable to predict any changes in the future.
The Service, Members and the Fire Brigade Union continued to lobby Government and the fire report by Sir Thomas Winder was welcomed as it stated that services were to be placed on a stable longer term footing in the future.
(5) Councillor Atkin askedcould the spokesperson for the Fire Authority provide the result of the recent inspection of South Yorkshire Fire Service.
Councillor Taylor explained the report published in December saw Her Majesty’s Inspectorate rating South Yorkshire’s Fire and Rescue as ‘good’ across all three judgement criteria.
Inspectors found that South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue was:-
This placed South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue amongst the top rated services in the country.
The report was an excellent indication of the quality of service South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue delivered to communities and the hard work and dedication of its staff.
Of course there would also be areas for improvement and under the leadership of its new Chief Fire Officer, the Service would properly consider and put in place measures to address all of these, as it sought to continually improve its service to the people of South Yorkshire.
In a supplementary question Councillor Atkin also placed on record his own thanks to the dedication of the fire fighters and management to get this “Good” rating. He asked if there was any further good news?
Councillor Taylor explained from his involvement with the Fire Service feedback and recognition from agencies was highly positive, with very few exceptions. As part of the flooding incidents staff provided a professional service which was recognised at the highest level.
In addition, the Fire Service’s Communications Department had won several awards for media campaigns and the innovative and influential ways of delivering the safety measure to the public.
The joint South Yorkshire Police and Fire Authority Community Safety Department was also voted the best emergency services collaboration project in the country. In addition, Alex Jones, Chief Fire Officer, also received the “Most Influential Woman in Fire” award recognising her individual and collective service. This highlighted and recognised the progress being made in the Fire Service moving forward.