The cost of police paperwork has risen to more than ?600 million a year, far outstripping the combined amount spent on tackling robberies and burglaries.

The money funds officers and civilian staff to fill in forms, write letters and send memos. It also pays for supervisors to ensure that paperwork has been completed correctly.

Rank and file officers accused the Government and police chiefs of adding to red tape. The findings emerged from the annual "activity-based costing" (ABC) review, ordered by the Home Office, which investigates what police budgets are spent on.

The 2004/5 review, the first to be published, estimated the cost of police paperwork in England and Wales at ?500 million. The latest review, for 2005/6, used a more accurate counting method and produced an even higher total.

The first findings were released last week by Britain's biggest force, the Metropolitan Police. From a total of ?3.2 billion spent in 2005/6, ?122.2 million went on "non-incident linked paperwork" and ?26.5 million on "checking paperwork".

The Met accounts for almost a quarter of the nationwide annual policing bill. Assuming other forces do a similar amount, the annual cost of police paperwork across England and Wales is about ?625 million.

A spokesman for the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: "These figures illustrate the concern we have had for years - that officers are overburdened with paperwork at the expense of response-based policing."

A Scotland Yard spokesman defended the amount spent: "It covers all the paperwork required to keep the service functioning from ordering uniforms to search forms. The Met has a unit seeking to eliminate unnecessary paperwork."

The Met's spending in 2005/6 also included ?62.7 million on cover for sick colleagues and ?68.9 million on refreshment breaks.

By contrast, the force spent ?76.6 million on robberies and ?48.8 million on house burglaries. The biggest budget headings were ?505 million for counter-terrorism and protecting VIPs and ?313 million for visible patrol.

Ian Pointon, the chairman of Kent Police Federation, told officers at an open meeting: "The target-driven culture rammed down our throats by our political masters has focused our attention on ticking boxes and not on quality of service."

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