Merseyside protest over police budget cut threat

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the largest police authorities yesterday voted in an emergency meeting to send a delegation to the Home Office to protest at government plans to cut up to pounds 13m from its force's budget.

Jim Sharples, Chief Constable of Merseyside, said yesterday that the proposed new funding formula was 'fundamentally flawed' and would result in the loss of 500 beat officers from his force.

He is among a growing number of chief constables to speak out against plans by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to reduce the budgets of some forces by as much as 17 per cent.

Merseyside Police are set to become one of the worst-affected and Mr Sharples said that the force was being penalised for its success against crime. He has made representations to Mr Howard, and other ministers, warning that the formula would have a serious impact on Merseyside if implemented on 1 April.

Among factors used in the formula are recorded crime, which has been falling on Merseyside for eight years, and population, which has also declined. 'You could argue that we are being penalised for success. We have had a reasonable degree of resources to combat the policing problems of Merseyside and we feel we have done that rather well. It is sad that by doing so we have also contributed to our present position in this proposed formula.'

Mr Sharples added: 'If you begin to tamper with the strength of that force or reduce its effectiveness then there must be some impact on crime figures.' Faced with the loss of pounds 13m from his budget, he said that at least 500 of his 4,700 officers from all ranks, but mainly constables, would have to go, along with 100 of his 2,300 civilian support staff.

Norman Williams, Conservative chairman of Merseyside Police Authority, said yesterday that the cuts 'defy logic'. He is seeking a meeting with Mr Howard. He added that he would consider resigning from the Tory party if the formula went ahead. 'The whole thing is so ludicrous that it would be a pantomime if it wasn't so damned serious,' he said.

The Home Office said that the plan did not mean a cut in total expenditure among the 43 forces in England and Wales but a different way of sharing out the budget. No final decisions had been taken and any cuts will be phased in over a number of years.