Historic sex abuse takes up a third of force time

Police chief Dee Collins.
Police chief Dee Collins.

A THIRD of all West Yorkshire Police investigations now involve non-recent child sexual exploitation cases, according to a briefing paper detailing the acute pressures now facing the force.

The paper, called Demanding Times, highlights a series of increasing demands on the service including a dramatic rise in the number of reported cases of child sexual exploitation which surged by 150 per cent between 2013 and 2016.

The analysis, presented to local MPs, warns the force’s ability to tackle crime and protect the most vulnerable in society is under serious threat unless the Government urgently provides more money for the service.

It details a desperate financial plight allied to a growth in demand swamping a depleted workforce, which is reporting increasing levels of sickness.

Last night the Home Office rejected the local analysis with a spokesman saying decisions should be “based on evidence rather than assertion” but West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson said there had been cross-party support for more funding when he presented the briefing to MPs on Tuesday evening.

The analysis highlights a 35 per cent reduction in funding since 2010, resulting in almost 1,400 fewer staff. It says on top of £140m savings already delivered, forecasts predict a further £13m recurrent savings will need to be made.

The paper goes on to illustrate the impact on policing, including a five per cent fall in arrests, a 24 per cent drop in stop and search, and the number of fixed penalty notices for speeding and mobile phone usage, cited as key causes of accidents, falling by 15 per cent.

There has also been significant decline in response times from 2013/14 when the force attended 90.9 per cent of emergency calls within 15 minutes and 90 per cent of all priority calls within 60 minutes to, so far in 2017/18, just below 80 per cent and just over 70 per cent respectively.

A greater emphasis on safeguarding vulnerable people is illustrated by a 258 per cent increase in the number of people reported missing – up to more than 20,000 in 2016, compared to 5,600 just three years earlier.

In addition, the report notes the force received 1,500,705 calls in 2016/17, a 5.1 per cent increase on the previous year, including an 8.3 per cent increase in 999 calls which now account for more than a quarter of the total.

The briefing also highlights that all five of our force’s districts have reported sickness associated with stress, anxiety and depression is increasing.

It concludes by saying “the pressures we now face are becoming increasingly untenable. A stand still position, or indeed any further reductions of funding, will continue to significantly impact on the quality of service we are able to provide.

“This will lead to a more reactive service that struggles to get ahead of demand, fails to intervene early and is not able to problem solve long term issues in our communities, ultimately leading to potential failures in respect of tackling crime, providing reassurance and protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Halifax Labour MP Holly Lynch, who attended the meeting with the PCC in Westminster, said neighbourhood policing had reduced by 50 per cent in Calderdale over the last year which was reflected by around half of all constituency concerns now revolving around criminality and public safety.

She said: “It’s my biggest hope that there will be an increase in police funding in the budget next week.

“Not everything is about cash but cash is the biggest issue if we’re going to put more police officers on our streets.”

Mr Burns-Williamson said: “I reiterate that the price we will pay for an under-resourced police service in West Yorkshire is too high.

“I warned the region’s fellow politicians at our meeting in Westminster and was reassured that they share my concerns and will join me in making the case for a fairer funding deal for West Yorkshire in the 2018/19 police settlement.”

But Home Office spokesman said: “This Government has protected overall police spending in real terms since the 2015 Spending Review.

“West Yorkshire Police has received £408.3 million in total direct resource funding this year, which is £3.7 million more than 2015-16. We note that West Yorkshire Police’s reserves have almost tripled since 2011, standing at £91.1m in March 2017.

“We recognise that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the pressure they are under. That is why we are reviewing demand and resilience, as well as police plans for greater efficiency and prudent use of over £1.6 billion of financial reserves.

“It is right that decisions are based on evidence rather than assertion and as part of this process we are speaking to chief constables, PCCs and frontline officers from across the country.”

Chief Constable Dee Collins of West Yorkshire Police, said: “The Demanding Times report was intended to provide a realistic picture of the demands and realities faced by West Yorkshire Police. It makes plain that those demands are changing and increasing, at a time of reduced police resources.

“The force, along with many of our partners, have had to make major financial savings in recent years and we still face the significant challenge of reducing our budget by nearly £13 million over the next three years, if we are to continue recruiting new officers to replace those who leave.

“That said, we remain absolutely dedicated to doing all we can do to keep people in West Yorkshire safe and feeling safe, by delivering the best service we can with the money and resources we have.

“The force was rated as ‘Good’ in our latest assessment by the HMICFRS and was praised for its work to reshape itself to meet the complex challenges we face with less resources.

“For example, our average call handling response time for answering a 999 emergency call in 2017 was just 4.4 seconds, making us a lead force in responding quickly to residents who needs us most at a time of crisis.

“We will continue do all we can to protect the residents of West Yorkshire, but it must be stressed that any further budget cuts and a failure to re-invest in policing will continue to challenge our ability to deliver long term problem solving to combat crime and the effects of crime in both our residential and business communities.

“As you would expect, in times like these our prime focus must remain on protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.”