Minister rebukes anti-terror chief

Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer was publicly rebuked by a Government minister today after warning that planned spending cuts could not be delivered without increasing the risk of a terrorist attack.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said public servants should not indulge in "shroud waving" and should be concentrating on getting costs down rather than "alarming the public".

The highly public spat erupted after Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner John Yates said counter-terrorism officers would have to make savings in the region of £150 million as part of "eye-watering" Treasury cuts.

He said that shaving 25% from the police budget - as Chancellor George Osborne suggested in his emergency Budget last week - risked weakening defences against al Qaida.

His comments were made during a private session at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference in Manchester but details of his speech were disclosed to The Times by one of the delegates.

Nevertheless Mr Maude said that it was not appropriate for senior public servants to comment in this way.

"I'd like to avoid public servants doing this kind of shroud-waving in public. There is a special responsibility on all public servants to be really careful what we say and what we do," he told the BBC.

"It's going to be pretty important for people who are managing big public services like police forces to focus on cutting out unnecessary costs, driving down costs, being as efficient as they possibly can before they even begin to contemplate talking about alarming the public in this kind of way."

However shadow home secretary Alan Johnson said that Mr Yates's remarks had exposed the damage that spending cuts were causing and he accused the coalition Government of being "as soft as a damp marshmallow" on crime.

"I don't know what Francis Maude knows about this, I don't know what he knows about counter-terrorism," he said.

"They are going to severely affect the ability of the police and the other agencies to protect the people of this country."

Mr Yates was said to have warned that the Metropolitan Police was facing cuts of £87 million from its anti-terror budget, while units across the country would lose £62 million.

He also suggested a review of security legislation, including control orders, surveillance powers and 28-day detention, would have significant implications on the fight against terrorism.