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 had once again read in the local paper that the Police and Crime Commissioner intended to increase the precept to pay for additional Police. The Police and Crime Commissioner had a department of 23 FTE’s, so he asked could the Spokesperson explain briefly what measurable tangible benefit do these people along with the Police and Crime Panel contribute towards increasing the effectiveness of South Yorkshire Police?
Councillor Sansome pointed out that Councillor Cowles misunderstood the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner – which was set out in Legislation. The Police and Crime Commissioner:-
1. Produced a Police and Crime Plan which set out the priorities for the Force. The Plan was updated each year in line with any changing circumstances – such as changes in crime, the impact of the coronavirus.
2. Drew up, in conjunction with the Chief Constable, the annual budget for the Force and ensured that it balanced against funds available. These funds were Government grants (approximately 70%) and precept (approximately 30%). The precept was decided by the Police and Crime Commissioner, but only after consultation with Council Leaders, the Police and Crime Panel and the public.
3. Held the Chief Constable and the Force to account for the way they perform as a Force – for which the Police and Crime Commissioner needed evidence. He did that formally in a Public Accountability Board meeting which was open to the press and public, at which senior officers present reports, including a quarterly report on the performance of the Police in Rotherham district.
4. Commissioned services – such as Victim Support Services.
5. Used assets recovered from criminals to fund local groups across South Yorkshire who were all helping to reduce crime or anti-social behaviour.
All the above activity contributed in different ways in helping the Force to meet the objectives that the public would like to see in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, supporting victims and the vulnerable, treating people fairly and making Rotherham a safe place.
All the above required staff. The Police and Crime Commissioner could ‘hide’ these costs by having staff on the payroll of the Force, but he chose to make everything he did as transparent as possible.
The Police and Crime Panel consisted of independent members and local Councillors from each of the four districts who once per month held the Police and Crime Commissioner to account on his performance. The meetings were held in public. Councillor Cowles’s party, in at least one of its iterations, had a Member on it.
Councillor Cowles in his supplementary question confirmed he had not misunderstood what the Police and Crime Commissioner did. He referred to a meeting and discussion that had taken place before Christmas and the accountability and effectiveness of the Commissioner and the Panel. The Police and Crime Commissioner still proposed to increase the precept, but failed to look at his own area to provide savings.
It was difficult to determine whether Police Officers that were recruited were operational and that, despite the Government putting more money into policing, South Yorkshire continued to have a higher crime rate. Councillors were still receiving complaints that the 101 service remained unsatisfactory and rather than the precept being increased further, it would be preferable to spend the increase in Council Tax in the area of Social Care and perhaps covering the cost of rent increases which had been debated earlier. It was, therefore, asked if the Police and Crime Commissioner was going to consult could the spokesperson please ask that he consult with Rotherham’s Members.
Councillor Sansome shared the same frustrations about accountability and holding the Police and Crime Commissioner to account, but would indeed ask that the Police and Crime Commissioner provide evidence of savings and the precept details once these were known.
Councillor Cowles was urged, however, to contact his local policing team about crime in his Ward and escalate this to the District Commander in Rotherham if he remained dissatisfied.
(2) Councillor Napper asked with the 14.1% increase in the Police precept could the representative of the Police and Crime Panel advise how many more frontline Police Officers have been employed and how many officers have been lost over the same period of time and to which forces in South Yorkshire have the new officers been deployed to?
Councillor Sansome explained the increase in the Police precept was not yet known since it had not yet been set by the Police and Crime Commissioner. All the Police and Crime Commissioner knew at this stage was that if he was to support additional officers and keep the existing service going he could only do so with additional funding from the precept. The Government also recognised this and was allowing Police and Crime Commissioner’s across the country to increase precepts by up to £15 on a Band D property. This would be a precept increase of about 7% - not 14.1%. Most properties in South Yorkshire, however, were in lower tax bands, mostly A and B.
The Government was also assuming in all its calculations that the precept would be set at the higher level. When the Government set out its plan to recruit more Police Officers and return South Yorkshire to the same level of Police Officers as there were under the last Labour Government, the maximum precept increase was required to make that happen.
If the Police and Crime Commissioner was able to fund additional officers there would be approximately 142 in the coming year.
Officers were deployed into each district according to a formula based mainly on population, but with some variance due to demand on the Force in that District and similarly like the previous question.
In a supplementary question Councillor Napper referred to the previous 14.1% increase, but sought information on how many police were recruited and employed and to where officers lost with redundancies etc. He was concerned about the 101 system and believed it was not working. He continued to experience problems in his own Ward with quad bikes and motorbikes and was frustrated with the apparent lack of action that the Police could take.
Councillor Sansome responded and confirmed that as a result of the 14% increase 90 additional officers had been requested. However, the Police and Crime Panel disagreed with the number and asked for additional numbers and this was increased to over one hundred more Police Officers.
There would always be natural wastage of officers, but it was important to maintain numbers. Whilst the Ward concerns about quad bikes were an issue, Councillor Napper, like Councillor Cowles, was advised to raise issues with local police officers and to escalate this to the District Commander if his concerns were not being addressed.
(3) Councillor R. Elliott explained he was informed the Police and Crime Panel had been asked to consider flexibility in policing and agree that PCSO’s were moved around South Yorkshire as required. This would mean the transfer of PCSO’s from Rotherham to Sheffield. This may have a detrimental effect on the crime figures in Rotherham and, therefore, was opposed to this suggestion. He asked would the Spokesperson oppose this proposal?
Councillor Sansome explained the deployment of PCSO’s was an operational matter for the Chief Constable in consultation with District Commanders.
Some years ago, Neighbourhood Teams were disbanded and all uniformed officers became part of Response Teams, not related to neighbourhoods. Only PCSO’s remained in neighbourhoods and this weakened the ability to respond quickly to incidents where someone with powers of arrest was needed.
There had since been a restoration of Neighbourhood Teams with Police Constables as well as PCSO’s and the role of the PCSO in the new Teams was reviewed. In addition, with the expansion of Police Officer numbers, some PCSO’s had sought to become Police Constables. There would be some moving around of PCSO’s for these and other reasons.
The aim all the time was to strengthen the Neighbourhood Teams, but again to go back to the beginning deployment of PCSO’s was a operational matter and not a political decision.
In a supplementary question Councillor R. Elliott asked that his feelings be fed back to the Police and Crime Panel as there were still insufficient Police Officers in Wards. The notion there was too many was ridiculous and pointed out many officers joined the ranks to serve in Rotherham. He asked, therefore, would the Spokesperson give his assurance to oppose any moves out of Rotherham and ensure the Police and Crime Panel did not accede to Sheffield.
Councillor Sansome reiterated the issues of moving Police Officers around the district was not a political decision, but operational by the District Commander. However, he would pass on concerns to the Police and Crime Commissioner, but also urged Councillor Elliott to make the District Commander aware of his concerns about the numbers of Police in Rotherham.