POLICE officers were paid an extra £7.9 million in overtime last year – including one detective who earned more than £23,000 on top of his normal wage, new figures have revealed.
Despite having to save £14 million between now and 2015 because of government budget cuts, police chiefs sanctioned the payment of £7,912,728 in overtime to police officers across South Yorkshire during the last financial year.
Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which holds public bodies to account for their spending, said: “Taxpayers will be alarmed the force’s annual overtime bill comes to nearly £8 million and it is possible for a police officer to get more in overtime alone than many people can normally earn in a year.
“While police overtime can be necessary to cope with major events and unexpected staff shortages, it is expensive and those managing the force should be working to minimise it.
“It suggests serious questions need to be asked about how resources are being allocated.”
But South Yorkshire Police bosses have defended the amount doled out to officers for working overtime.
A spokeswoman said: “The use of overtime remains a necessary function in delivering a responsive service to what is often unpredictable demand.
“Police forces have a duty to respond to unplanned events and incidents. It is not viable to permanently have extra staff working just in case such incidents arise.
“Despite this, South Yorkshire Police constantly reviews overall and individual expenditure. Over a number of years, targets for reduction have been set and this continues through to 2015 where cuts of 10 per cent are planned each year to support South Yorkshire Police’s savings plans.”
The force said the officer paid the most overtime – £23,201 – last year was a detective constable in a ‘specialist role’ who worked an extra 881 hours of duty – an average of 17 hours a week.
The spokeswoman said: “The specialist nature of the role means sometimes work is required urgently and with little notice due to the unpredictability of serious crime.
“South Yorkshire Police constantly review overall and individual expenditure. Over a number of years, targets for reduction have been set and this continues through to 2015 where cuts of 10 per cent are planned each year to support South Yorkshire Police’s savings plans.”
She added a proportion of the overtime, such as that paid for football matches, was recovered from other organisations including the city’s two football clubs.
The force’s budget for 2012/13 is £251 million, with £164 million set aside for police officer pay across the 2,818 officers it employed at the start of the financial year.
South Yorkshire Police Authority chairman Charles Perryman said: “From March 2010 to March 2012 the force has reduced overtime costs from £9m to £6.8m.
“We are pleased with the progress which has been made as this coincides with a continued reduction in crime levels across South Yorkshire.
“However, monitoring of overtime costs will continue, while the authority has also asked the force to ensure it can maintain operational resilience and respond quickly for any unforeseen circumstances, as well as providing sufficient cover for any major events.”