In the Media

Pledges broken in ?70m community police cut

PUBLISHED December 5, 2006

Police chiefs are furious over a ?70 million cut in the cash promised by the Government to deliver neighbourhood policing ? the key element of Labour's third term law and order agenda.

Almost unnoticed last week, the Home Office abandoned an election manifesto commitment to provide 24,000 police community support officers (PCSOs) by 2008, scaling the numbers back to 16,000.

Ministers said this was done because police leaders wanted more "flexibility" in recruitment.

But confidential documents passed to The Daily Telegraph show that the police are dismayed that the funding has been cut and have accused the Home Office of reneging on its promises.

An internal memo from Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Constables, sent to police chiefs in England and Wales, said the 43 forces should have received ?105 million to develop their plans beyond 2007.

However, they have now been told they will get only ?35 million, and ?20 million of that will go to London.

Mr Jones said he had ''objected most strongly" on grounds of fairness and asked that the money should be distributed more equitably but ministers refused.

Neighbourhood policing teams across the country are now being asked to review their plans.

In his memo Mr Jones said: "The process by which the ?105 million was removed and allocated leaves much to be desired. Strenuous efforts were made on your behalf to ensure that a fair outcome was achieved.

"We all recognise that the Home Office finances are under pressure and expected that the full ?105 million would not be forthcoming. That only ?35 million was returned to us is surprising ? as was the decision on how that sum was to be distributed.

''On the face of it our requests for greater flexibility are being acknowledged, but this is at the same time that our ability to creatively deal with the pressures we face are being constrained by disproportionate reductions in funding. Being given the flexibility to manage decline is not a position we have sought." Police say the squeeze by the Treasury on the Home Office budget has made future funding uncertain and chief constables will face "very difficult choices" over the next few years when they are under pressure to deliver Tony Blair's ''respect" agenda.

Avon and Somerset police is having to scale back its plans from 541 PCSOs, previously agreed with the Home Office, to 346.

Colin Port, the Chief Constable, has privately voiced his ''extreme disappointment" with the decision.

In Devon and Cornwall, the cuts mean a reduction from 535 PCSOs by March 2008 to 356.

Tony Melville, the Acting Deputy Chief Constable, said: "It is a blow to know that we will not be able to have the planned additional 179 PCSOs next year."

Sussex Police expressed concern that it was now going to be funded for only 354 community officers next year instead of 525.

The cuts were announced in a written Commons statement by Tony McNulty, the Police Minister, as part of the police grant settlement for next year.

Nick Herbert, the Conservative police spokesman, said: "Just days after the Government claimed that action on crime was at the heart of their Queen's Speech agenda, they've abandoned a key plank of neighbourhood policing."

Another law and order election pledge ? a national non- emergency number to divert calls from the 999 system - has also been scrapped.