Police patrols in danger of being 'eroded' by budget cuts, despite drop in crime

Overall crime in England and Wales down 9 per cent on last year but reported rapes are up 2 per cent

The police service faces fundamental changes to the way it operates after a report out today revealed that five forces will struggle with further budget cuts after the anticipated loss of nearly 32,000 jobs across England and Wales by 2015.

A report by the police inspectorate said that forces had generally coped well with 20 per cent cuts over five years but warned that local patrolling was in danger of being “eroded” and could have an impact on crime prevention programmes. The report also raised concerns that the response times to 999 calls were rising in some areas.

The study was released after the Office for National Statistics reported a nine per cent fall in recorded crime for the last year, despite a rise in rape offences and a 27 per cent increase in fraud. The Government said the figures were vindication of radical reforms that had seen budget cuts and the introduction of elected police and crime commissioners.

However five of the 43 police forces in England and Wales will struggle to find further cuts after March 2015, according to the report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. They include two of the smallest forces, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire, which have fewer options to trim budgets and raises the prospect of police mergers in a radical change to the policing landscape. West and South Yorkshire and Northamptonshire also faces future problems.

The Government has opposed such changes and the election of 41 police and crime commissioners  appeared to steer the debate away from senior police demands for fewer forces. But in a speech earlier this month, the policing minister Damian Green said he had “nothing against them (mergers) in principle where they are supported by PCCs and the local community.”

The HMIC report said that the failure of forces to collaborate represented a major lost opportunity in cutting costs, but chief inspector Tom Winsor warned that mergers involved a “serious degree of disruption and expense”.

He highlighted some forces where there had been “mergers by osmosis” such as Kent and Essex which has a joint serious crime command. “Working smarter – doing things in different ways – will be necessary,” he said. “That will include greater measures of collaboration between forces and with the private sector and other parts of the public sector.”

However, the HMIC report raised concerns that in some areas, police and community support officers – who do not have the powers of arrest – have taken over the role of local patrolling. There was also evidence that volunteer specials were plugging gaps following the expected loss of 15,400 police officers by 2015.

“In some areas, the neighbourhood is being stood up by PCSOs,” said Zoe Billingham, HM inspector of constabulary.

"We have found a considerable variation in the approaches taken by forces - and in some cases this leaves us with concerns about how some forces will manage in the face of further cuts.”

The report said most forces have plans in place to balance their books and of increasing the proportion of its workforce on the frontline. It also emerged yesterday that the number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen for the fourth consecutive year - by 3.4 per cent or 4,516 - taking the total to its lowest level since 2002. The figures were revealed as Steve White, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, claimed some officers were being forced to work 14 days straight due to numbers being stretched.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the figures were good news. "I think we should congratulate the police. As a Government we have asked them to do more with less resources. They have performed, I think, magnificently and I think all the work that has gone into crime prevention has helped as well.”

"This is good news, that Britain is getting safer as well as stronger."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said there was "worrying evidence that the service provided by the police is being hollowed out as 15,000 police officers are being cut".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own