Thousands of police and immigration officers will lose their jobs after the Home Office budget was slashed by almost a quarter. Although the pain was less acute than some forecasts, 20,000 posts could still vanish in England and Wales over four years.
The Government insisted that large savings could be achieved by improved efficiency and the police pay freeze, and that there should be no reduction in numbers of officers.
Ministers hope the reductions can be cushioned by police authorities recouping extra cash from council taxpayers – optimistic given the scale of cuts faced by local authorities.
The Home Office refused to be drawn yesterday on how much police numbers would fall. However, several forces have drawn up plans to cut thousands of jobs from the 144,000 police officers and 100,000 civilian support staff, and further losses look inevitable in the face of cuts of almost £2bn a year.
Chief constables will attempt to achieve most losses through retirement, voluntary redundancy and recruitment freezes. Chief Constable Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester Police, said there was "no question" there would be fewer officers.
The auditing giant KPMG estimated yesterday that 18,000 police officers could be lost over the next four years, while the Police Federation puts the figure at 20,000.
Paul McKeever, the Police Federation chairman, added: "While appreciating the government's view that we should purely fight crime, the reality is that police officers deal with a multitude of tasks that fall outside of this remit, including the care and welfare of vulnerable citizens."
Spending on counter-terrorism policing will be reduced by 10 per cent. More than 5,000 of the 25,000 posts in the UK Border Agency will also go as its budget is trimmed by 20 per cent. Officials insist the impact on border controls can be kept to a minimum by efficiency savings, improved productivity and the concentration of checks on high-risk travellers.
A further 1,500 Home Office posts, including jobs at the Identity and Passport Service, are being scrapped as its budget is cut by a third. They are in addition to the 2,000 staff who have recently accepted voluntary redundancy packages.
The department was among the biggest losers, suffering a 23 per cent reduction in its budget to £8.5bn by 2014-15.
One senior official said: "We think we can make it work. We think we can take out a lot of costs while ensuring our essential capabilities for protecting the UK are maintained."
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said: "My absolute priority is to ensure that the UK retains its capabilities to protect the public." But Ed Balls, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is not only reckless and dangerous for jobs and the economy, but is taking huge risks with the public's safety."