Today’s columnist, Neil Bowles: It’s all smoke and mirrors

Pete Burke is part of the South Yorkshire Police Operation Ophelia which is aiming to catch drivers offending behind the wheel by using a HGV. Picture: Andrew Roe
Pete Burke is part of the South Yorkshire Police Operation Ophelia which is aiming to catch drivers offending behind the wheel by using a HGV. Picture: Andrew Roe

Regular readers of my column will remember that I expressed my surprise when the Chancellor, George Osborne announced that the Government will protect overall police spending in line with inflation – an increase of £900 million by 2019-20, in his comprehensive spending review statement last November.

He said “Now is the time to back our police and give them the tools to do the job. I am today announcing there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we’re going to protect the police.”

I was surprised, because the budget for policing in South Yorkshire has been continually cut since 2007.

All the rumours and hints coming from the Home Office were for more cuts.

In this county we are dependent upon the police grant from government for 80 per cent of our monies, the rest mainly comes from local taxation including the precept – the amount that is collected from council tax for the police.

Credit to them, successive Police Authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners have increased the precept each year, but the increase is capped by central government.

This is nowhere near the amount lost from central government.

Policing is about people, officers and staff dealing with the public. Technology has a part to play, but it does not replace the need for personal interactions.

Therefore, the vast majority of the policing budget is spent on salaries.

Cuts mean fewer officers on the street and fewer staff supporting them.

Forgive me for repeating this, but it’s important.

In 2007 we had nearly 3,400 officers, 2,500 staff and about 300 PCSOs.

We have already lost more than 800 officers and 800 staff and we now have 225 PCSOs.

So what does this U-turn by the Government mean? It’s taken the PCC, the Chief Constable and the accountants some time to decide on the 2016/17 budget.

Despite deciding to increase the precept again by the maximum allowed, we have £10.5m less than the year before, which means 50 more officers posts deleted, 200 fewer staff posts.

That is what the Chancellor means by protecting the police, protecting the public.

The local taxpayer is paying more for a lesser service. This not just here in South Yorkshire, but in the majority of forces in England and Wales.

There was a hyped announcement recently that we are recruiting 500 officers by the end of the decade.

So how does that fit with the budget cuts? In the mid to late 1980s there was a huge police recruitment drive nationally.

Those who started back then are coming to the end of their service and are now leaving the force.

Morale is at an all-time low, and officers are deciding they have had enough and are leaving early.

The officer posts lost so far has been by natural wastage, and that will continue.

We will have more officers leaving early and retiring normally than we need to go, to achieve the target figures.

* Neil Bowles, South Yorkshire Police Federation