South Yorkshire’s Police Federation described the £74.5m cuts to the annual budget of South Yorkshire Police, which has lost 600 officers since 2007, as “not just scary…but an ongoing policing nightmare.”
The Federation’s chairman warned that the under-fire force had already drastically reduced the number of officers who “are the heartbeat of policing, linking in and gaining the trust and confidence of local communities”.
It says the number of roads policing officers have fallen from 150 to 90 and the cold case review team has been disbanded as a result of the reduced budget.
Thirteen front counters have been closed in five years, according to the Federation, while the dog unit has dropped from 36 handlers to 25 and the mounted unit has seen numbers fall from 12 to eight.
Neil Bowles, chairman of South Yorkshire Police Federation, said: “The budget cuts mean less policing in South Yorkshire; this affects every resident, employee, child, student and pensioner in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
“We have loss 600 police officers since 2007. does that make you feel safer? And the fear is that with continued budget cuts, we will have about 2,400 officers by 2018 - does that sound like a nightmare to you?
He added: “Where are the effects of these cuts mainly being felt? In neighbourhood teams - the lifeblood of policing. The men and women on the front line of protecting you, your families, your homes and your businesses from crime.”
The warning is part of the ongoing #CutsHaveConsequences campaign to highlight the consequences of cuts to policing budgets in the South Yorkshire and what they will mean to the tax-paying public.
It comes days after The Yorkshire Post revealed that South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner had already paid out £12m on the legal costs of the Hillsborough inquests, and could face a bill of more than £20m by the time they end next year.
Dr Alan Billings last week proposed a 1.95 per cent increase in the police council tax precept, citing the “extremely difficult” financial outlook faced by local police services.
He said the expected 3.3 per cent cut in his central funding for this year had turned out to be 4.8 per cent, meaning a year-on-year reduction of £9.5m for the force. With other spending pressures included, it means £17.5m of savings will need to be found for 2015/16.
While extra funds are being diverted to tackling child sexual exploitation and other related issues, the force will also have to cover significant costs not related to day-to-day policing.
The National Crime Agency’s probe into the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, is likely to cost South Yorkshire Police millions of pounds as the abuse happened on its patch.
The cost of policing protests by far-Right group the English Defence League put a £2.5m dent in its budget in under 12 months.
And a Hillsborough-style inquiry into the events of the 1984 Battle of Orgreave, if it is commissioned, could mean further substantial costs.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said: “Police forces up and down the country are having to make tough decisions as the amount of central government funding is reducing year on year.
“Here in South Yorkshire it is even more challenging as we have unique legacy issues, around the Hillsborough inquests and Orgreave, where the scale of the costs cannot be easily quantified.
“I am working with South Yorkshire Police to look at how we can use our available resources differently to work more efficiently, in a smarter, more imaginative way.
“For instance making use of new technology or collaborating with other forces can make policing both more efficient and effective.”
South Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable Andy Holt said: “Budget cuts present us with a significant challenge and my job is to ensure we deliver the best possible service to the public of South Yorkshire with the budget we are provided.
“We hope people recognise we have to make some very difficult decisions, however we will strive to continue to offer a high-quality service to members of the public, drive down crime and provide a timely and appropriate response to the variety of incidents we deal with on a daily basis.”
Policing Minister Mike Penning said: “Police reform is working and crime has fallen by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the Independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.
“Police recorded crime is down by 14 per cent in South Yorkshire.
“While we acknowledge that the police funding settlement is challenging there is no question that the police will still have the resources to do their important work.
“What matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are in total. The reduction in crime nationwide demonstrates there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels, the visibility of the police in the community and the quality of service provided.
“This Government has made it easier for the police to do their job by cutting red tape, scrapping unnecessary targets, and giving forces the discretion to use their professional judgement.
“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that the police are successfully meeting the challenge of balancing their books while protecting the frontline and delivering reductions in crime.”