Bobbies' job threat after budget cut

Police chiefs in Norfolk will be forced to sack frontline officers or increase council tax after a Home Office U-turn which slashed £1m from the force's budget, it emerged last night.

Police chiefs in Norfolk will be forced to sack frontline officers or increase council tax after a Home Office U-turn which slashed £1m from the force's budget, it emerged last night.

Norfolk Police Authority has demanded an urgent meeting with ministers after express-ing "anxiety and concern" over the £1m reduction to its neighbourhood policing funding.

This means that instead of paying for 280 police commun-ity support officers (PCSOs) in the county, the government will only fund the 189 already recruited.

Police authority chairman Stephen Bett said the force now faces a "Hobson's choice" of four options:

Keep the neighbourhood policing teams already introduced in the Eastern Area and currently being rolled out in the Central Area but not introduce any teams in the West. This would be unmanageable as it would create a two-tier policing system.

Sack police officers current-ly employed in the county and use the money saved to recruit the additional 91 PCSOs needed.

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Reduce the size of each neighbourhood policing team and ask some of those already recruited to work in other parts of the county. If no PCSOs are prepared to move, as is likely, some would lose their jobs and be replaced by others will better ties to the communities concerned.

Increase council tax by 2pc on top of the 5pc already forecast for the coming financial year due to other shortfalls in government funding - above the acceptable level likely to be set by ministers thus triggering further financial penalties.

Mr Bett said: "None of the options are realistic but we have made a pledge to introduce a policing team in every neighbourhood and the public has made it clear that it supports this policy."

Nationally, the cuts mean only 16,000 PCSOs will be recruited instead of the 24,000 originally promised. The government has relaxed strict rules on maintaining police officer numbers - but in Norfolk, which already has the fourth-lowest ratio of police officers per head of population in the country, this seems impossible.

Mr Bett added: "We have spent two years working on this only for the funding to be removed at the eleventh hour. Many teams are already deployed and have been hugely successful.

"We are already struggling on the back of historically low funding for the police service in Norfolk and now we are told we can spend less money on police officers to pay for the 280 PCSOs to ensure our 52 safer neighbourhood areas are staffed to the minimum level."

The funding was supposed to cover 75pc of the salary costs of PCSOs for the first two years.

When the changes were announced at the end of November, the Home Office claimed they were supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

However, in a letter seen by the EDP, ACPO supported the increased flexibility in police officer numbers but not the funding reductions.

A public consultation will take place on January 18 at 7pm at Jubilee House in Wymondham.

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