Police budget cut to hit officer numbers

LORNA MARSH Police bosses in Norfolk are to fight plans to strip their budget of millions of pounds and the bleak prospect of cuts in officer numbers or hikes in council tax.

LORNA MARSH

Police bosses in Norfolk are to fight plans to strip their budget of millions of pounds and the bleak prospect of cuts in officer numbers or hikes in council tax.

The Norfolk Police Authority (NPA) was told at a meeting on Thursday that the government proposal, which comes on top of previous grant cuts in recent years, would leave the force desperately underfunded.

Members agreed to lobby the Home Office and put forward arguments against the plans to change the formula of money distribution to all 43 forces in the country which would leave Norfolk out of pocket in favour of urban areas.

Calculations show that after a three-year government safety net to protect forces hit by the new formula is phased out Norfolk would be £3.6m down.

It means frontline officer numbers would be reduced and council tax payers could see yet another massive hike.

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Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary Ian McPherson said: “The shortage for the constabulary and the authority would become a long way beyond anything that can be reasonably expected to be met through simple efficiency measures.

“To maintain standards of policing in Norfolk, which I am very keen to do, we may find ourselves with more visits to the Home Office, more lobbying and more difficult conversations.”

Chris Harding, chief executive of the NPA, said: “Catastrophic is perhaps too strong but this would have a significant impact and put significant pressure on us in terms of capping and council tax.”

The new formula would ditch the rural policing fund, which the constabulary fought for initially because of the unique challenges faced in the county.

The NPA report said: “It is likely that most of the impact for Norfolk results from absorbing the rural policing fund. It was part of the original justification for the fund that the general formula did not reflect adequately the impact of sparsity on police costs.

“That has not been rectified since and there is a strong argument for retaining this element.

“This proposal would result in a number of winners and losers over the police family.”

Mr Harding did say that good news might be gained from Home Officer Jacqui Smith's promise yesterday for more police funding.

But the plans come just months after policing minister Tony McNulty came under fire for saying government funding cuts had left police in Norfolk high and dry and that the county would be on its own in meeting future cash shortfalls.

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