Country police lose out as cash goes to cities

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The Independent Online
Cuts of up to 13 per cent in the budgets of rural police forces are to be put to ministers under proposals which would see a switch of resources to the big cities. Large cuts in the numbers of officers in country areas would follow as some forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, would get increases of more than 6 per cent - worth pounds 100m.

Chief constables in the forces under threat are deeply concerned at the prospect of losing money on next year's budgets. A row over police funding, which included the threat of a drop in the number of officers, would be extremely damaging to the Government in the run up to the general election.

The Home Office's proposed changes in the current funding formula, which calculates how much each of the 43 forces in England and Wales receives, follows a study by a Home Office working party. The findings are due to be presented to ministers in two weeks' time.

The Independent understands that under the proposed changes for next April forces such as Dyfed Powys could lose up to 13.4 per cent of its pounds 48m budget - the equivalent of about 250 officers. The Metropolitan Police would get an extra 6.6 per cent on top of its pounds 1,551m allocation.

Other big losers would include Devon and Cornwall, which could get pounds 12m or 8.1 per cent chopped off its budget. The City of London is the only force in a metropolitan area to be among the top 10 losers.

A chief constable, who did not want to be named, said: "At the moment the formula seems skewed in favour of metropolitan forces at the expense of rural ones. Many are already underfunded and struggling ... There is also a suspicion that the bigger city forces have more political clout and influence."

Ray White, Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys, possibly the hardest hit force, said a large reduction to his budget would be disastrous. "The funding provided for the force is already very limited and we are carefully considering all the possibilities which might arise as a result of changes to the funding formula," he said.

A new formula, which gives money for factors such as crime rates, population and unemployment levels, first came into use in 1995/6 and gave chief constables control of their budgets for the first time. However, many police chiefs believe it is flawed. Several of the options are extremely unlikely to be accepted, so The Independent has calculated the possible winners and losers based on the six factors most likely to be accepted.

These include a greater emphasis on the time forces actually spend at the scene of specific types of incident. For example, more money would be available for specialist squads, such as fraud and murder, rather than burglaries and car theft. Another factor is the cost of living in different parts of the country.

A Home Office spokesman said the review was still going on and a final decision had not been made.

Percentage rises and cuts in forces' budgets

TOP Five LOSERS

Dyfed Powys 13.4%

Devon and Cornwall 8.1%

City of London 7.6%

North Yorkshire 7.3%

West Mercia 6.8%

TOP Five WINNERS

Metropolitan Police 6.6%

West Midlands 4.6%

Nottinghamshire 2.9%

Greater Manchester 2.5 %

Merseyside 1.6%

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