South Yorkshire Police fears over budget cuts

Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Alan Billings.
Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Alan Billings.

Police officers may have to stop policing football matches, dealing with neighbourhood disputes and carrying out welfare checks as budget cuts take their toll.

The Reverend Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner gave the stark warning as he said the county’s police force may have to start saying ‘no’ to some requests for help with fewer officers and less cash than ever before leaving the service stretched.

He said the police force was the ‘service of last resort’ which other organisations were increasingly turning to in times of austerity.

However, he said to maintain law and order on the county’s streets the force may have to start rejecting some requests in a bid to balance its books.

The first budget cuts came in 2007 – by 2017 South Yorkshire Police will have had to find savings of £74.5 million.

But this week, the force finances took a turn for the worst when it emerged a Home Office grant to cover the cost of legal fees for police officers involved in the Hillsborough inquests had left a £6 million ‘shortfall’.

And Dr Billings warned there will eventually be a ‘tipping point’ as budgets continue to fall and crime and anti-social behaviour begin to rise.

He said: “The police service nationally talks about a tipping point, but nobody is really able to say what that is, but there must come a point where we are so short staffed the core business of tackling crime and anti-social behaviour is where our efforts must focus and we reduce resources from non-crime priorities, where other agencies have responsibilities.

“We will never say we are not going to investigate a murder, for example, but the impact of the budget cuts could show itself in other ways.

“If a GP surgery rings up and says there is an elderly person they have concerns about, we would normally go and check on them, but in the future we may have to say sorry, we are unable to do that.

“We may have to push back harder on other agencies and public services who we know are over-stretched.

“If we ever get to that point we have to come clean and say to people we are at that point, you can’t just let it drift.

“Controlling football crowds, tackling neighbourhood disputes - that’s the sort of thing that could go.”

Over the last eight years 600, police officer jobs have been axed in South Yorkshire.

And by 2020 police chiefs estimate there will only be 2,000 officers left – 1,300 less than in 2007.

Neil Bowles, chairman of the South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, said: “My Federation, and others across the country, have been warning of the consequences of these and future budget cuts for the last five years.

“We want the public to feel safe as they go about their everyday business, the cuts will make this difficult.”

Police chiefs are reviewing all departments with a view to saving costs, with a number of regional units likely to be set up with neighbouring forces to share resources and costs.

The police dog unit and armed police section are among those expected to become regional teams.

Bosses are trying to boost the number of special constables they have working for free in the county to increase police visibility on the streets.

They are also looking at sharing more community buildings , including schools and libraries, rather than operating in under-used aging police stations.