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Police cuts 'disastrous' for service to public

Heavy cuts to police budgets over the next two years will have a disastrous effect on frontline services, the body representing rank-and-file officers said today.

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said plans to cut police budgets by 20%, including by 6% in 2011/12 and 8% in 2012/13, would "undoubtedly result in a detrimental service for the public and victims of crime".

He warned the cuts would have "unintended consequences and present very real risks" as Home Secretary Theresa May was accused of failing to secure a good funding deal for her department.

Backing Labour's call for the Government to look again at police funding, Mr McKeever said: "The front-loading of cuts in years one and two will have a disastrous affect on frontline policing services and will undoubtedly result in a detrimental service for the public and victims of crime.

"The Government must recognise that cutting the police budget by 20%, and with such large cuts in the early years, this will have unintended consequences and present very real risks."

Earlier, in the Commons, Labour's Steve McCabe predicted that some of the UK's biggest urban police forces would have a "terrible difficulty" coping with the cuts and said Mrs May "didn't quite achieve as much" as her fellow Cabinet members during spending negotiations.

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the cross-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee urged the Government to "think again" and ask for extra cash from the Treasury.

"What the public want is, they want to be able to pick up a phone if a crime has been committed, to report it to a police officer and to make sure that crime is dealt with as quickly as possible," he said.

"A reduction in resources, if it means fewer police officers - and I think it will mean that - then the Government does need to think again and possibly go back to the Treasury and ask for additional resources so that we match the spending that there has been in the NHS and education."

But Policing Minister Nick Herbert insisted the Home Office had been given a good deal in the negotiations.

"Contrary to what the Opposition suggested in terms of a poor deal being secured for the police, it was in fact a rather better deal than had been expected in relation to the non-protected departments," he said.

"Although the reduction in central government spending in the police is 20% over four years ... it is not the case that this means the reduction in the amount of money that forces might have will be 20% over the four years."

He said only a third of money came from central government funding, with the rest from the council tax precept, which had not been cut.

Mr Herbert accused Labour of "scaremongering" about the effect of the cuts in an attempt to gain "political capital" while failing to acknowledge that they too would have been forced to reduce spending.

He also insisted there was not a "simple link" between police numbers and crime.

"What we should be concerned about is how officers are deployed, whether they are available and visible to the public, whether they are there on the streets when the public want them," he said.

"Therefore, what matters is not the total size of the police workforce but the efficiency and effectiveness of deployment, how much bureaucracy is tying them up.

"That is simply an issue the Opposition will not address."