Police chief's warning over funding

SUFFOLK'S top policeman warned last night the force was facing a “struggle” to maintain current levels of service in the face of a budget shortfall of £6million.

By Danielle Nuttall

SUFFOLK'S top policeman warned last night the force was facing a “struggle” to maintain current levels of service in the face of a budget shortfall of £6million.

Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said he did not see how the force could continue to operate at the present rate unless it received significant financial backing from the Government.

He was speaking hours after Home Secretary David Blunkett unveiled a new five-year anti-crime plan in which he pledged to provide an extra 5,000 community support officers (CSOs) across the country in addition to 15,000 announced last week.

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Mr McWhirter said: “We are in a situation where we are facing a budget deficit of about £6million and I do not see how we are going to maintain the level of service we have unless we get sufficient resources to do it.

“At the moment we have got 200 extra police officers and those extra officers are looking, not under threat, but as if it's going to be difficult to keep those up unless the Government gives more money.

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“Eighty-four percent of the budget goes on wages and salaries so if I have to save £6million out of a £96million budget then that's a considerable amount to take off the top.

“We do not know if that's the case but it looks as if we are going to be struggling.”

He added: “David Blunkett has made speeches about record numbers of police and, as he currently says and in the past, he intends to maintain the numbers of police officers.

“I feel pleased about that. I need to see that we really do get those resources until I feel entirely happy.

The Home Office's five-year plan, announced in the Commons yesterday, focuses on tacking anti-social behaviour in communities and is aimed at cutting offending by 15% by April 2008.

It includes plans to extend on-the-spot fines to a range of new offences, including theft, underage drinking, and selling alcohol to minors, and freeing up an extra 12,000 police officers for frontline duties by reducing paperwork and bureaucracy.

The new CSOs - civilian wardens who patrol communities but have limited powers - were welcomed by Mr McWhirter.

“Provided police numbers stay as they are, I would welcome our share of 20,000 extra CSOs,” he said.

“If we get an additional 20,000 CSOs across the country, Suffolk's share is likely to be 200 because we are 1% of the police across the country.

“I would welcome 200 extra pairs of hands and eyes on the streets. They can provide an excellent addition to regular police officers providing a service and I will do everything I can to encourage CSOs, special constables to enhance the police family.

“I would prefer 200 extra police officers but if what's on offer is 200 CSOs, I will welcome them with open arms.”

Liz Pettman, chairman of the Suffolk Police Federation, also welcomed the CSOs but called upon the Government last night to provide extra funding to maintain the police officers they had already got.

“If the Government are committed to keeping police numbers at the level at the moment, they need to back that up with necessary funding to do it,” she said.

“I think there is a place for CSOs if they are in addition to police officers I would not want to see CSOs replacing police officers.

“The whole scheme needs to be evaluated properly before we have too many CSOs.”

The CSOs are intended to help communities such as Glemsford, which has been blighted by anti-social behaviour and low-level crime.

The problem became so bad, private security guards were employed to patrol the streets and curb the vandalism.

Last night, Glemsford parish councillor Len Young said: “Personally, I would like to see them fund 5,000 police officers. It's all very well but they haven't got the authority that police officers have got and it's like having a lion with no teeth.

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