Police hope to keep helicopter flying

THE chief constable of Suffolk police said last night he hoped budget shortfalls would not result in the force helicopter being grounded - although he could not guarantee it.

By Danielle Nuttall

THE chief constable of Suffolk police said last night he hoped budget shortfalls would not result in the force helicopter being grounded - although he could not guarantee it.

Alastair McWhirter was speaking ahead of a visit to London today to join other police forces in lobbying Whitehall for more cash.

He revealed concerns over the funding of Suffolk police over the next three years, but admitted there were few areas where any cuts could be made.


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The Government has told all police forces across England and Wales they cannot reduce police officer numbers at all to make savings.

They are also not able to dip into pension funds, which account for about 10% of Suffolk's budget.

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"That leaves us the money used to pay police staff, who we have nearly 800 of. It leaves the service, IT, buildings, vehicles and the helicopter," said Mr McWhirter.

"I cannot say the helicopter is safe but I am very reluctant to do anything to reduce our capacity. It does things you cannot do on the ground but it has a very large cost.

"I am hopeful that we won't have to interfere with it in anyway at all."

But Mr McWhirter warned there would be cuts in police staff, although this would not take the form of redundancies.

"We are trying to do it whereby if a job becomes vacant, we do not fill it. I am hopeful we will not get into redundancies. That's not in the foreseeable future," he added.

The chief constable will be joined at Westminster by Graham Manuel, Suffolk Police Authority's vice chairman, who along with police force representatives across the country, will outline their funding concerns to more than 100 MPs.

To fund existing services, police forces need an increase of 5.5% at least from the Home Office. However, indications are that funding will only increase by 3% for 2005/06, leaving a £350million shortfall across the country.

For Suffolk alone, this equates to a shortfall of about £6million. Government capping means the police authority cannot recover the cash by increasing council tax.

Mr McWhirter has commissioned a review of the Constabulary to ensure the force is working efficiently and effectively, the findings of which will be revealed in November.

"We have not got a lot of fat to pay out. There is not a hidden pot of gold that we can suddenly dip into in this organisation," he said.

"We need as many resources as we possibly can so we can continue delivering a service to the people of Suffolk, because they will suffer at the end of the day.

"It may come to the stage of looking at taking police officers out of front line duties and putting them in support duties to keep the infrastructure going."

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