Gordon Brown's determination to avoid tax rises in a pre-election year could mean fewer police in rural areas and fewer criminals behind bars, according to a secret memo from the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
The memo, leaked to The Independent on Sunday, reveals that the cuts to be imposed in Wednesday's Budget are threatening to bring about an open rift between the two most powerful ministers in Tony Blair's Cabinet.
Mr Blunkett has warned that proposed spending curbs could lead to a "damaging retrenchment" in the fight against crime. The cuts could result in fewer police for all but the highest crime areas, and prison reserved for "prolific or dangerous prisoners", the memo warns.
The Home Office will also bear the brunt of cuts to education and health budgets if crime prevention and drug treatment programmes are slashed, according to the internal document.
Mr Brown is expected to confirm that government spending is to be heavily squeezed to avoid tax rises in this summer's three-year spending round.
Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, has already appealed to Mr Blair over the threat of deep cuts to the defence budget.
Mr Blunkett's opening salvo in what promises to be another bitter dispute with the Treasury comes in a memo from his most senior civil servant, John Grieve. It contains a draft of the Home Office's "strategic plan" for the next four years as well as a copy of a Q&A dealing with staffing cuts.
In one section, "Resources, Risks and Choices", the draft plan says: "To have the maximum impact we will have to target resources on our highest-crime neighbourhoods. Within a tight budget, that will be difficult as we also need to avoid damaging retrenchment in the rest of the country."
In an apparent attempt to present a united front against Mr Brown's proposed spending curbs, the document also warns of the consequences of cuts in other areas on crime levels in Britain.Reuse content