YP Comment: Turning point for police force. South Yorkshire’s fresh start

Stephen Watson is Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police.
Stephen Watson is Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police.
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THE only regret about Chief Constable Stephen Watson’s enlightened approach to policing in South Yorkshire is that so much pain, and upheaval, had to be endured by the public and police alike to reach this point.

In one regard, Mr Watson’s appointment could not have been more opportune. His force’s reputation was so tarnished, and besmirched by so much scandal, that it could not have become any worse after the confluence of past and present controversies like Hillsborough, Orgreave, Rotherham and Sir Cliff Richard.

Yet it’s also taken leadership on his part to recognise that the vast majority of officers under his command had nothing to do with these scandals – many were not even born when the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was taking place or the tragic FA Cup semi-final in 1989 – and that South Yorkshire Police was, contrary to perception, not rotten to the core.

For the record, it was negligent leadership and decision-making by police chiefs who should have known better which undermined the day-to-day work of frontline staff who Mr Watson regards, quite correctly, as his force’s greatest asset as he begins the painstaking task of changing his organisation’s entire culture.

As such, it’s very welcome that up to 500 officers are to resume ‘beat bobby’ roles later this year. Only by being seen to work with the law-abiding public will they be able to win back lost trust while rectifying failings in community policing highlighted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

It won’t happen overnight. Mr Watson accepts this as he comes to the end of his first year at the helm.

He also knows that he will be judged by results and, therefore, has to make the very most of the resources at his disposal rather than complaining in public about austerity.

However, by leading by example, and setting the high standards that he has every right to expect of others, there’s no reason why Mr Watson’s reign should not represent a turning point in South Yorkshire Police’s troubled history.

Head’s warning: Northern Powerhouse sidelined

THE intervention by Sir Nick Weller, the Bradford headteacher who led the Northern Powerhouse Schools strategy, is disappointing on two counts.

First, his remarks indicate the extent to which Whitehall is paralysed by Brexit, and that it will be even harder to make progress on key issues like skills.

Second, his candour re-enforces the now widely-held view that the Northern Powerhouse, a vision championed by George Osborne, is no longer a top priority for this Government.

Even though Sir Nick said, cuttingly, that “it’s still championed by the editor of the London Evening Standard”, a barbed reference to the former Chancellor’s current role, the regret is that this ambivalence will lead to even more policy drift when the issue of skills has never been more critical.

Though academic attainment is improving slowly, it is doing so from a low base compared to other parts of the country and too many pupils are denied the world-class education to which they should entitled.

One factor is a dearth of inspirational teachers who are prepared to work, and live, in some of this county’s most deprived communities, and Sir Nick would like to see the Government, and its partners, doing more to promote the opportunities that do exist here. Incentive payments is another idea.

After being humbled by the electorate, Theresa May has promised to listen and learn. As a supposedly ‘One Nation’ leader, her response to Sir Nick will reveal if her good intentions are sincere – or whether she’s simply buying time to prop up her premiership.

A lesson for life: Swimming and river safety

HOW can children learn to swim when councils can no longer afford to run local pools – or headteachers are having to decide whether lessons in water safety take precedence, for example, over new computers?

This is the reality as the Local Government Association said that a sharp rise in the number of drownings, exemplified by the heroic schoolboy who lost his life rescuing two girls struggling in the River Trent, could be linked to a lack of awareness about the dangers of cold water shock.

This is too important to be left to political chance. Like riding a bike, learning to swim is a rite of passage that is integral to a child’s upbringing. Both schools and parents have a shared responsibility – the Government’s duty is to recognise that no price can, or should, be put on the importance of well-run local swimming pools.