Only six police forces nationally have faced bigger cuts during the austerity years than South Yorkshire Police, a new league table confirms.
Both South and West Yorkshire Police have seen their incomes shrink by 21 per cent as a result of Government policy, putting them in joint seventh place in the national league table for how much the 42 forces in England and Wales have lost, in terms of percentage from their budget.
Elsewhere, the neighbouring Humberside force has fared a little better, in 11th position, but North Yorkshire has seen a much less severe impact, at 33rd on the league table, with cuts that have seen its annual budget shrink by 14 per cent.
The difference in the scale of cuts on each of the four forces highlights the impact on recent Home Office policy, which has increasingly switched the burden of paying for police from central Government onto local council taxpayers.
Although all four forces have seen a similar percentage reduction in money provided by the Government – a 29 per cent cut for North Yorkshire and 30 per cent for the other three – differences in property values have opened a gulf in the money actually received.
Money for policing is added to council tax as a ‘precept’ and in recent years the Government has set relatively high maximum increases, which police and crime commissioners have largely felt obliged to impose.
But many of Yorkshire’s large urban communities have homes predominantly in low council tax bandings, meaning even large increases in tax demands on householders bring in relatively modest amounts.
That explains why the Surrey force, which has also seen central funding slashed by 29 per cent, has only seen its actual budget drop by 11 per cent.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said that during his years in the role, the Government’s focus had switched from keeping council tax rises as low as possible to putting added responsibility for paying for policing onto householders.
An announcement is expected soon from the Home Office about next year’s spending allocations for police, with speculation that an additional £700m may be made available by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Dr Billings told a meeting of his public accountability board that he had found a new realism among the public about what the could expect from today’s police.
“There is much more of a sense of realism from the public about what police can and cannot do,” he said.
“I would say people are aware of what the true position is,” he said.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said the force was working to ensure it achieved maximum value from the money available.
“Re-investment in neighbourhood policing is our bit of the equation, that we are using it wisely,” he said.
Had South Yorkshire Police faced no cuts in the last few years, it would now have an extra £84m a year to spend today, police calculations show.
The force has been involved in increasingly innovative work to reduce costs as its budget has shrunk over the years, with the PCC now looking for more widespread collaboration with the county’s fire service to cut costs for both organisations.
That could ultimately see him taking control of the service, unless the existing South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority can come up with ways to speed up the process of joint working.
With the force, recent measures include the Sheffield policing district setting up a local unit called The Bridge, to take up the time consuming administrative work which keeps officers away from their duties on the streets.
It works through using officers on a recuperative plan, following illness or injury, allowing them to get back to work earlier than they otherwise might.
The Bridge now provides 14,000 hours of work each year, with “a significant portion” of that being time that would have otherwise been lost to sick leave.
Also in the city, outside bodies are now contributing towards policing with Meadowhall owners British Land, Sheffield University, Sheffield Moor and Sheffield BID all contributing.
Overall, it means the city’s service has been bolstered by nine additional officers with no additional salary costs to the force.
Even officers’ pay arrangements have been changed, moving from a four weekly period to monthly, to cut down on payroll administration.