A NEW report on beleaguered South Yorkshire Police has identified a “void and disconnect in strategic direction” as the force has faced a “perfect storm” of budgets cuts, increased demand and high profile “legacy issues”.
The force has recently found itself at the centre of a range of controversies, including the outcome of the Hillsborough inquests, the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, calls for a new inquiry into the so-called Battle of Orgreave and its investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.
After £195,000-a-year chief constable David Crompton was suspended earlier this year in the wake of the Hillsborough verdicts, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings and temporary chief constable David Jones set up a “peer review” of the force.
Both men said yesterday said that the published report, which warned that good officers are ‘jumping ship’ and that the force’s cuts plans have ‘not been well thought through’, made uncomfortable reading.
The review also attacked the decision to cut £8m 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.
In its conclusion, the report said: “The current situation regarding change in SYP originates from inconsistent strategic direction from the chief officer team over the last couple of years.”
It said: “They (the review team) have formed the view that there is a cultural tendency with SYP to focus leadership effort on
reactive operational activity to the exclusion of organisational (strategic) change and this has exposed the force during a period in its history where austerity, changing demand and legacy issues have collided to create the perfect storm.
“This in no way excuses the ‘temporary loss’ of direction but it explains the context.”
The review was undertaken by a team of specialists under the College of Policing’s peer support arrangements led by Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes from Lancashire Police.
Responding to the review, Mr Jones said it was an “honest and frank summary of where we are today”.
He said: “The report makes clear that decision making has been isolated, staff have not been listened to and action has not always been taken on agreed plans. Financial and operational planning have not been linked and there has been an under-investment in key areas.
“There has been a disturbing move away from an effective neighbourhood policing model.”
Mr Jones added: “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.”
Mr Jones said the findings would be shared with Stephen Watson – the Deputy Chief Constable of Durham Police who will become the substantive chief in South Yorkshire in November.
Dr Billings said: “It is clear that there has been a lack of direction 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.”
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.