Government funding cuts could lead to the loss of up to 60,000 police officers by 2015, an expert warned today.
The figure represents the worst-case scenario after the Treasury told departments to prepare for cuts of 40 per cent, according to research for Jane's Police Review magazine.
Looking at "clues" and projections by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), Tim Brain said reductions could be as high as 40 per cent but are predicted to be around 25 per cent.
Dr Brain, the recently retired chief constable of Gloucestershire and Association of Chief Police Officers lead on finance, is now Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University.
He suggested that if the police receive average cuts, resulting job losses could lie between 11,500 and 17,000 although this would vary across forces.
"Obviously, we don't yet know, and nor will we know for certain until the results of the spending reviews in the autumn, but in the meantime there are some clues," Dr Brain wrote. "First, the police service is not on the protected list.
"Second, the new Home Secretary Theresa May has warned that the police can expect to face its fair share of cuts, and third, there has specifically been no guarantee to maintain personnel numbers but it would appear we are looking at job losses in the police forces of 11,500-17,000 if the police are to suffer the Government's average cuts.
"This will mean fewer personnel for patrol, response and investigation duties."
No official national spending figures are available for 2010-11 so far, but before the election the IFS predicted public spending to the proportion of GDP would be reduced to the proportion it occupied in 2003-04.
If police funding levels were similarly reduced, the equivalent of 30,000 full-time posts would be lost by 2015, Dr Brain said.
After the Budget, the IFS analysis projected a return of public spending to levels last seen in 1997-98.
In this scenario the equivalent of 60,000 full-time equivalent posts would be lost, according to Dr Brain.
Some forces receive more grant money from the Government than others, which would mean the effects of cuts will not be felt evenly across all forces, he added.
Dr Brain concluded for the magazine: "Of course, the figures here are projections based on estimates and assumptions in what is a highly unpredictable environment.
"The Government is in control of the rules and small percentage changes here or there when magnified by billions make a lot of difference.
"Furthermore, the Government plans for most of the cuts to fall in 2014-15, so there's plenty of time to change the detail."
Dr Brain said he expects the bulk of cuts in personnel to come through non-replacement of police officers who leave the service and redundancies among civilian staff.
But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They are absolutely essential to the efficient running of the operational service. They are pretty much part of the front line."
Policing minister Nick Herbert reiterated the Government's desire to "protect the front line" but said no guarantees could be given on staff numbers.
"We've said that we can't guarantee the numbers but what we will do is everything possible in terms of giving the police the flexibilities of driving the costs out and asking them to drive cost out, working more efficiently, using the resource better," he told BBC Breakfast.
"We are all going to have to deliver more from less. We are in a different environment now, the money is not flowing in, we are going to have to make savings.
"The police, like any other organisation, can find the savings if they really want to and look harder. That is what we are going to have to do and we have to try and protect the front line."Mr Herbert raised the prospect yesterday of police forces having their budgets cut by a quarter as part of the comprehensive look at Government spending.
"The Government spending review will report in October, and we will not know until then what future police funding will look like," he told MPs.
"But the Chancellor made clear that unprotected departments including the Home Office will face spending reductions, implying an average real cut of around 25 per cent over the next four years.
"So whatever the outcome of the spending review, value for money considerations will become a new imperative for police authorities and forces.
"We have been working constructively with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss how forces can meet the considerable challenge of reducing spending on this scale.
"Our joint ambition is to do everything possible to protect frontline services."
Home Secretary Theresa May described the projected cuts in police numbers as "entirely speculative".
Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, she said that the scale of the cuts to the Home Office budget had yet to be agreed with the Treasury.
"These figures are at the moment entirely speculative," she said. "I don't think it is helpful to speculate or comment on that speculation."
While she acknowledged the police will have to "take their share of cuts" as the Government tackles the deficit in the public finances, she added: "I believe that there are costs that can be driven out of police forces. I believe there are savings that can be made that will not affect frontline services," she said.
But pressed by Labour MP David Winnick to say whether she expected to see police numbers fall over the next four years, she said: "I am not going to give you a yes or no answer."Reuse content