Daily Telegraph: Police numbers down as funding runs out

Saturday, 26 January, 2008

POLICE numbers are falling at their fastest rate in seven years because of a pounds 3 billion funding hole, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Home Office figures due out next Thursday will lay bare how ministers are relying increasingly on community support officers with fewer powers to carry out day-to-day policing tasks.

The news comes after crime figures this week showed that 28 gun crimes are committed in England and Wales every day and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said that terrorists were intent on causing "mass casualties'' in Britain. Police chiefs typically need to recruit about 7,000 extra officers a year "just to stand still'', sources said.

However, budget cuts mean that forces have had to slow levels of recruitment.

Sources said police strength could be down by as many as 1,000 officers to less than 141,000, the biggest fall in officer numbers in England and Wales since 2001.

They said: "The peak was a year ago. Police chiefs are hiring more Police Community Service Officers (PCSOs) than officers as PCSO funding is still ring-fenced.''

The situation is unlikely to improve over the next four

years following last autumn's Comprehensive Spending Review, which sets budgets across Whitehall. Police asked for an eight per cent rise in their budgets, but were given only five per cent.

The Association of Police Authorities said last year that numbers could fall by as many as 6,000 officers in the next three years because of the funding shortfall.

A report by the Policy Exchange think-tank this week found that 80 per cent of the total police budget is spent on staff. This means that any overall budget cuts will lead directly to cuts in personnel.

Gavin Lockhart, of Policy Exchange, said: "There is a realisation among the police leadership that there needs to be a wider focus on police effectiveness, not this myopic focus on officer numbers.'' But Jan Berry, the chairman of the Police Federation, said: "Numbers down is concerning because the pressure on front-line policing has not diminished. The promise of less bureaucracy and better working practices is for the future. The pressures on the front line are now.''

Police officers are already angry after the Government capped their pay rise at 1.9 per cent, prompting 22,500 to protest in London on Wednesday.

David Ruffley, the Tories' police reform spokesman, said: "Labour's boasting about police numbers rings pretty hollow on the public who only care about seeing more police on the streets. If Labour's spending squeeze results in fewer officers being employed there will be even less visible policing than we have now.''