‘Unachievable’ plans to cut more than 800 jobs at South Yorkshire Police are being put on hold following a damning review of the force’s past leadership.
A review ordered in the wake of the suspension of former chief constable David Crompton over his handling of the Hillsborough inquests has warned good officers are ‘jumping ship’ and the force’s police cuts plans have ‘not been well thought through’, while being ‘hugely damaging to wellbeing and morale’ among rank-and-file officers.
But ordinary officers were praised for their ‘high-quality’ work in challenging circumstances.
The report, carried out by the College of Policing, blamed ‘inconsistent strategic direction’ over the last few years from the chief officer team led by Mr Crompton, who was paid £195,000-a-year, for the force’s problems.
The review also attacked the decision to cut £8 million from neighbourhood policing budgets by removing dedicated teams of knowledgeable local officers who dealt specifically with longer-term community issues instead of just responding to crime reports.
Under the new model, all officers became responsible for responding to incidents and ‘having a neighbourhood focus’.
The report said: “SYP has significant resource allocated to reactive ‘response’ policing to the detriment of dedicated neighbourhood officers.
“Neighbourhood Policing was cut by £8m-plus during the last Comprehensive Spending Review and without exception everyone we spoke to at every level of management believed this was a flawed decision and that the replacement ‘hybrid’ model wouldn’t work. It clearly isn’t working and has recently been reviewed with the general consensus being it needs putting back.
“South Yorkshire Police has somewhere in the region of 1,500 police officers allocated to uniform response, West Midlands Police will soon have 1,100, but 2,000 in neighbourhood policing. The resource allocation in South Yorkshire Police is out of balance, and as a result there is no sharing of accountability for vulnerability and prevention across the model.”
Major concerns were also raised about the ‘significant pressure’ on the Public Protection Unit, which deals with offences such as domestic abuse and hate crime.
The report said staff in the unit are suffering ‘high levels of stress and anxiety’ and the force is struggling to attract staff to work in the department.
A recruitment drive to bring in an extra 369 new officers by 2019 has also been put on hold.
The report has also demanded a halt to the rollout of a new £12m police database that had been due to go live in December.
It said the decision to bring in the new technology has ‘not been properly risk-assessed’ and there were ‘far more cons than pros’ in the intended arrangement for its use.
The review said: “The decision was made without a clear understanding in South Yorkshire Police of the risks.
“Whilst the team do not suggest there is any deliberate mischief in the decision, quite why South Yorkshire Police have agreed to do it is unclear.”
The new shared database with Humberside Police was to be used by every members of staff, with the force claiming it would result in ‘faster, more agile and more effective way of delivering policing for the public’ and ‘make it easier for everyone to do their job.
But the South Yorkshire Police Federation said there have been problems in getting staff trained on the new system in time for its introduction.
The review said time is needed for the new permanent chief constable to ‘develop a vision’ for the future of the force until 2020.
It was announced earlier this month that Stephen Watson, currently the Deputy Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, will take over leading the force in November.
The College of Policing was asked to assess the force’s operations and organisations by police commissioner Alan Billings and interim chief constable David Jones in light of Mr Crompton’s suspension.
A team of 22 experts carried out the review into what South Yorkshire Police does well and where improvements can be made
It found decision making has been isolated, staff have not been listened to and action has not always been taken on agreed plans.
The review also found that financial and operational planning have not been linked and there has been an under-investment in key areas.
The report stated that despite a plan for how to deliver 205 job cuts to police staff this year going missing, efforts to implement the redundancies had still be going ahead.
It said: “There are many dedicated and high quality people doing their best and displaying high levels of public service motivation and discretionary effort.
“However, this is starting to erode as the operational impact of poorly co-ordinated change and unsophisticated resource planning over the last few years has started to have a detrimental impact.
“The current situation regarding change in SYP originates from inconsistent strategic direction from the chief officer team over the last couple of years.
“Cuts to police staff have not been well thought through.
“The same goes for the future assumptions upon which financial savings are based.
“Nobody can find the delivery plan for the 2016/17 reduction of 205 police staff commitment, yet the Change Programme is trying to make it happen.
“As police staff have exited without re-design of the service delivery model, critical areas of business have lost experience as well as much needed capacity, requiring police officers to fill gaps at greater cost.
“Good people are ‘jumping ship’ because of the clear but unachievable statement on police staff cuts that is self-defeating and hugely damaging to wellbeing and morale.”
Since 2010, the number of people employed by South Yorkshire Police has fallen from 5,583 to 4,452, with almost 600 fewer officers on the street as their numbers went down from 2,303 to 1,733.
Neil Bowles, from the South Yorkshire Police Federation, said the findings of the report are what it has been warning the force about for six years.
He said: “The cuts have just been applied across the board to reduce officers and staff, with no account of what our actual demand is.
“Nobody listened to us or the practitioners about what would or what would not work.
“We totally agree with the first paragraph of the narrative; there are a very high number of high quality and dedicated officers and staff trying to make things work. However this work has been compromised by the poorly co-ordinated change programme and unsophisticated resource planning.
“People have ‘jumped ship’ and are continuing do so.
“I agree with the recommendations and hope that the new chief constable takes this all on board and is allowed to get on with them.”
He said that over the last two years around 160 police officers have left South Yorkshire on top of those who had already planned to retire.
Mr Bowles said a small number were dismissed some transferred to new forces, but the ‘vast majority’ had left to take up new careers.
He said large numbers of civilians had also left the force though a redundancy programme aimed at driving down the police force’s wages bill.
“High numbers have been leaving over recent years and allowed to leave without any thought given to how to fill the gaps they have left behind,” he said.
Interim chief constable David Jones said the report was uncomfortable reading but represented an ‘honest and frank’ assessment of where the force stands.
He said: “There has been a disturbing move away from an effective neighbourhood policing model.
“The report holds a mirror up to the organisation and reflects the views of the police officers and staff who try so hard to provide the best possible service to the communities in South Yorkshire. I pay tribute to those officers and staff who continue to go the extra mile for the public.
“The report is an uncomfortable read, but an important one if we are to return this service back to the heart of our communities. One where South Yorkshire Police is back as part of the very fabric of neighbourhoods.
“The report will be shared with the incoming chief constable and will undoubtedly become his priority in the months and years ahead.”
Crime commissioner Dr Billings said: “What the team is reporting on is what they have been told by staff from across the whole organisation.
“There is also a recognition that South Yorkshire Police has many dedicated, high quality people who are doing an excellent job and displaying high levels of public service motivation.
“But it is clear that there has been a lack of direction which has led to a situation where decisions have been made in isolation, rather than collectively, often based on financial targets instead of a clear understanding of demand and sense of purpose.
“The findings provide a picture for the incoming Chief Constable of the strengths and weaknesses within the organisation with recommendations to allow him to hit the ground running when he joins the force in the coming months.”