Telegraph Column: Smart thinking needed at South Yorkshire Police

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

It will soon be one hundred days since I was elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. What have I done in that time?

The circumstances of the election were miserable. My predecessor had resigned following the Jay report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, where he had been a councillor.

South Yorkshire Police were facing questions about their conduct in Rotherham, and over their handling of the Hillsborough football tragedy and the miners’ strike, particularly at Orgreave.

Much of this was historic; but it deeply affected the morale of the force.

So I have been busy walking a fine line between giving the force the support they need to do their job well but also holding them to account for both historic conduct and current practice.

I have also spent time getting to know the many different aspects of contemporary policing – from cyber and business crime to counter-terrorism.

If I am to set the priorities of South Yorkshire Police on behalf of the public – and that is the job – I must have knowledge of all police activities and not just the more familiar work of neighbourhood policing and responding to emergency calls.

But the biggest challenge now is working out how priorities for the coming years are to be financed.

It’s a challenge because some costs cannot be easily quantified – such as those arising from the Hillsborough inquests which continue throughout 2015 – and because central government funding has been reduced every year.

This year the cut has been particularly savage, though I suspect that whatever the government after the general election, the financial position will be little different.

There is always a danger when organisations are under financial pressure that they simply salami slice their budgets and activities year on year, rather than looking ahead and trying to work out what can be done with available resources differently and more efficiently.

We have to think how, for instance, new technology or collaborating with other forces can make policing both more efficient and more economical.

If this is the financial outlook then South Yorkshire Police have to get smarter and more imaginative.

We have to ask what we want policing to look like in five years’ time and what can help us get there at less cost.

Easier said than done! But over the next few weeks and months you will gradually see how this is beginning to work out.