Frontline policing under threat - claim

Frontline policing numbers in Norfolk will be slashed if ministers approve a £3.6m funding cut - despite spiralling costs as officers struggle to cope with an influx of immigrants.

Frontline policing numbers in Norfolk will be slashed if ministers approve a £3.6m funding cut - despite spiralling costs as officers struggle to cope with an influx of immigrants.

Officials at Norfolk police will meet next week to discuss the “nightmare” scenario which comes against a backdrop of a succession of grant cuts in recent years which have already left the county's budget stripped to the bone.

Police authority chairman Stephen Bett accused the government of being out of touch with rural areas, saying it had failed to take account of changes brought about by population growth brought about by an influx of immigrants.

His comments echo those of Cambridgeshire chief constable Julie Spence who said a squeeze on funding caused by out-of-date population figures meant there had been no extra cash for officers in the past five years.

Mr Bett said that the very best Norfolk could hope for is that it maintains its current level of funding which led to a 7pc council tax increase this year - the fourth highest increase in the country. At worst there will be “major and widespread” cuts, including a reduction in officers on the frontline.

“Until now we have had a level of protection meaning that, at worst, we would not lose funding as we are guaranteed a minimum increase,” Mr Bett said. “However, the formula used to calculate grants is being reviewed and this protection could be lost.

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“If this happens we stand to lose millions of pounds from our budget. Our budget is already at full-stretch following a disappointing settlement last year.

“This has left us extremely vulnerable and we would have to carry out a review at all levels. This would certainly include frontline policing and may also mean that we do not introduce safer neighbourhood teams in all areas as originally planned.”

Mr Bett said immigration had forced police to change the way they operate. Often cases are more difficult to investigate as translators are needed.

There are currently 72 different languages spoken in Norfolk and last year King's Lynn police station alone spent £70,000 on translation fees. A particular problem is drink driving which is more acceptable in different cultures.

“Rural areas have traditionally been very static and that meant that if a crime was committed officer generally knew where to look,” he said.

“Nowadays our community is much more transient partly due to immigration and partly due to better transport links. This means crimes are more complex to investigate and yet we still have one of the smallest ratios of officer numbers per head in the country.

Authority treasurer Bob Summers said council tax must increase by 1pc for every £450,000 needed. This would mean an 8pc increase would be needed in Norfolk if the changes go ahead.

Earlier this year the authority was reprimanded by the government for increasing council tax beyond its approved level and warned ministers would have “no hesitation” in imposing strict penalties if there was a repeat of this increase.

Mr Summers added that early signs were that nationally the settlement will be an increase of 2.7pc but some of this will be skimmed off to meet Home Office costs bringing the rise in way below inflation. There is also a fear that urban forces will receive larger increases than those in rural areas.

A report to be considered at next week's meeting states: “Current grant levels are based upon a level of support that has remained stable for some years and it is imperative that this continues.”

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