COMPLAINTS over a lack of police presence on Barnsley’s streets should be a ‘thing of the past’, after South Yorkshire Police revealed an underspend of almost £3m despite hiking its precept.

The majority of the cash, the force says, is a result of police staff vacancies and because more funding has been secured from the government to create specific tasking forces such as the £2.5m violent crime unit.

The underspend has been revised in recent weeks - going from £3m to £2.8m - but complaints have been lodged with local policing teams over why on-the-beat presence remains low.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, increased his element of council tax by 14 per cent for the current year but a new financial officer is now working to monitor police spending in the future as a result of the underspend.

Dave North, chairman of Shafton Parish Council, said on-the-beat bobbies have always provided ‘vital’ assurance to residents but bemoaned the lack of presence.

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“For years we had our PCSOs providing constant updates and they always attended our monthly meetings but I can’t remember the last time that happened,” he added.

“There’s been a lot of concern raised with burglaries in Shafton and I’m certain that if we had the presence we once had, criminals would not have targeted the village.

“They’ve cottoned on to the fact that there’s no longer that vital police presence on the ground and that’s why crime has gone up and people are worried.

“It’s all well and good raising the precept but when there’s a massive underspend, we expect a better service.”

Although Barnsley is set to gradually lose some of its PCSOs after bosses opted to cut numbers in order to fill more PC posts, it’s hoped the increased number of police officers with more powers will drive down crime.

The town is set to receive another share of new PCs under plans outlined to ‘substantially’ grow South Yorkshire’s roster of officers announced by the government.

So far 55 have already been planned in this year’s budget as a result of a previous precept increase, while an additional 13 are also scheduled to take up their posts during this financial year.

“Asking for more for policing and then not spending it is a serious matter,” Dr Billings said.

“While I understand the importance of visible policing to communities there is also a lot of policing that isn’t visible but is still taking place.

“For example, crime is increasingly online and investigating these crimes needs people who are not on the street but in front of computers.

“To increase the neighbourhood teams would see a cut in these areas or in the support staff roles.

“Ongoing reform of the force is taking place, which will significantly amend the workforce composition going forward, so the public can be assured that this is constantly under review.

“We know that over the past nine years - the years of austerity - that criminals have taken advantage of falling police numbers.

“The government has finally recognised the folly of those cuts and is seeking to increase police numbers.”