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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

A police force needs an immediate cash injection of up to £40m if it is to meet "reasonable" public demands, according to an unprecedented government inspector's report published yesterday.

The underfunding at Derbyshire Constabulary was so severe that inspectors refused to grant the force a certificate of efficiency for a third year - no other force has been denied a certificate this century.

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, Geoffrey Dear, who carried out the survey, blamed an "alarming extent of underprovision in this force" for Derbyshire's plight.

The Home Office and Derbyshire County Council are blamed for the money shortage.

The new Derbyshire police authority which will take control of the budget from April is attempting to take the Home Office to court to force it to provide extra funding.

Lack of resources has made the force incapable of dealing with all requests requiring rapid response, the report said.

Inspectors also found that the force failed to meet targets on the number of beat officers on patrol - it has among the lowest in the country - was understaffed, and its crime figures gave "cause for concern".

Derbyshire police say they are understaffed by 200 officers and face further cuts of more than 100 civilian and uniformed personnel in the coming year.

The report concludes: "There was a sad acceptance, and a massive and growing sense of frustration, at the inability of the force to deliver a quality of service to meet even reasonable demands from the public."

The Home Office is to give the force an extra £6m in its 1995-96 budget taking it to £88m, but Mr Dear said that "does not solve the problems arising from the legacy of underfunding."

He concluded: "An injection of monies sufficient to address the immediate needs of the force is imperative."

Mr Dear said the problem stemmed from underfunding that went back to 1982-83. He also criticised Derbyshire County Council for holding back some police money.

In response Eric Swain, chairman of the police authority, said Mr Dear's decision not to grant a certificate would further damage the morale and reputation of the force. He said more government funds were needed.

Keith Wilkinson, chairman of the new police authority, added that today they will seek legal advice in an attempted to force the Home Office to fulfil its obligation to ensure the efficient running of the police service.

David MacLean, the Home Office minister, responded that the extra funding for next year would "help rescue Derbyshire from its historical predicament and reassure the people of the county". He added: "Derbyshire can now plan for the future confident that it will receive proper levels of funding comparable to other forces."

The Chief Constable of Derbyshire, John Newing, said the 1,800 strong force remained short of about 200 officers and he insisted the increase in next year's budget would not allow him to address that "legacy" which was "at the root of the problem".

He added: "The force needs an extra £10m to deal with repairs and maintenance and shortages of staff, vehicles and equipment. Why can't the underfunding be dealt with in it's entirety now? And why doesn't the Home Secretary support the HMI's recommendation about an injection of money and provide an instant remedy?"

Mr Dear's report uniquely made no recommendations. He argued that without an immediate injection of extra funding any recommendations he made could not be implemented.