Funding gap could mean fewer officers on the beat

Photograph Simon Parker

Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

The number of police officers on west Norfolk streets may have to be cut as a result of a £15m funding gap, the county's police and crime commissioner (PCC) has warned.

Stephen Bett, who was elected as the county's first PCC in November, said after visits to King's Lynn and Downham Market that the only reason the force had been able to 'live within our means' was because members of the public had paid more through council tax to offset losses of central Government funds.

Mr Bett increased the constabulary's element of the council tax by nearly 2pc for 2013/14, enabling the force to recruit 10 more officers in the vulnerable people directorate to deal with an increase in reported crimes.

However he said eventually there would be a 'tipping point' where council tax could not be increased further and that officer numbers would have to be cut as a result.

'Reduced funding from the Government as part of their austerity measures has meant continuing net budget reductions resulting in a very considerable challenge to maintain policing at the current level,' he said.

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'There are serious and significant implications for future policing in the county.'

During an earlier visit to west Norfolk, Mr Bett had already warned that the force could be reduced to a 'blue lights only' service because of the funding gap.

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He said an 'enormous amount of hard work' had already been done to save cash, such as greater collaboration with Suffolk Police. However he added that more savings would be needed.

Mr Bett also hit back at MP Henry Bellingham's comments that it was 'totally unrealistic' to expect the force to be immune from spending cuts.

The North West Norfolk MP had said a blue lights only service would be unnecessary if 'highly professional and well paid' officers do their jobs properly, adding: 'I would hope that if they are working smartly and cleverly, they should be delivering value for money.'

However Mr Bett replied: 'I would encourage Mr Bellingham to pay more attention to the briefings he has had over the last six or more years that I and successive chief constables have given him and his fellow Norfolk MPs. There seems to be a disjoint between the two messages he gives.

'Yes, we must live within our means to pay and I support that.

'Nevertheless, MPs must acknowledge that in Norfolk this has only been sustained by the public paying more through council tax to offset some of the losses of central Government funds.'

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