Police budgets `threaten fight against crime'

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A chief constable yesterday made an outspoken attack on the Government and accused it of forcing the service to make significant cuts in the number of police officers.

Charles Pollard, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, said the reduction would seriously damaging his force's crime-fighting ability and "spread its `thin blue line' even further". He said his force would have to lose about 300 officers because of budget cuts under a new funding formula that comes in at the beginning of April.

Mr Pollard's criticism is the latest outburst by a senior police officer against the revised formula which chief constables claim will result in cuts of at least 1,700 officers in England and Wales. He said he was "dismayed that a force which the Home Office has previously recognised to be under- manned" should face cutbacks.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has already made a series of concessions in an attempt to appease the police and has agreed to stagger any reductions in budgets, which at one stage were to be cut by up to 17 per cent. Forces are particularly angry because they believe Mr Howard is reneging on his promise to get more officers back on the beat.

The Home Office argues that the new funding is a fairer system and that the overall budget has been increased by 3 per cent.

Chief constables, however, argue that the extra money is immediately being eaten up by inflation and increased pension contributions and pay.

One of the worst hit forces is Thames Valley, whose budget has been raised from £192.6m to £192.7m, a shortfall of more than £7m, according to the force.

Mr Pollard, commenting before a police authority meeting on Friday which will discuss the cuts, said the Home Office funding formula favoured forces with historically large staff levels, instead of looking at current need.

He said Thames Valley had seen its population grow by 30 per cent since the force was set up in 1968. Police numbers had grown by 28 per cent over the same period and workload had increased "enormously".

The spending increase of less than 1 per cent permitted by the Home Office had left it facing a budget deficit in 1995-96 of nearly £7.4m once inflation and other factors are considered.

"The resulting reduction in the overall level of service to the public will be greeted with much despondency and some disbelief by the people of Thames Valley," Mr Pollard said.

The Home Office said all forces had been given funding increases and their spending limits were assessed in a way which allowed them to maintain current manning levels.