Cuts 'threat to police patrols'
Local police patrols are in danger of being "eroded" by spending cuts, while five forces will struggle to cope with future budget pressures, a report into the state of police finances has found.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's (HMIC) annual value of policing report, examining budgets in England and Wales, said the majority of forces had adapted well to Government spending cuts, which will take a 20% hit in real terms by 2015.
However, it also identified how neighbourhood policing - the cornerstone of local crime prevention efforts - was being stretched to cover investigation units, with Police Community Support Officers sometimes the only visible street presence.
The report said it was "deeply disappointed" with "missed opportunities" to drive major efficiencies in some forces, while others would struggle to accommodate future cutbacks - identifying forces in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire as facing a battle to provide "high-quality service" to the public.
The report, largely in praise of police forces and their staff for swallowing significant budget cuts, comes on what the HMIC described as "police super Thursday", with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting a 9% fall in recorded crime for the last year.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said the overall response to the financial challenge by police forces had been "good".
But she added: "We have found a considerable variation in the approaches taken by forces - and in some cases this leaves us with concerns about how some forces will manage in the face of further cuts. We also have some concerns that neighbourhood policing risks being eroded as forces change how they deliver local policing.
"We flag as a risk the potential that, as a result of these changes, there will be fewer visible police officers with a warrant card, with the power of arrest, out on our streets when they need to be. Neighbourhood policing is the cornerstone of the British policing model - not a 'nice to have'."
The report says West Yorkshire Police had left "large elements of its operation untouched", while South Yorkshire had not "achieved savings seen elsewhere".
Northamptonshire Police's approaches to the spending review had been "innovative", the HMIC said, although it had "struggled to maintain its performance levels". Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire Police had also "responded well", the report said, although as small forces they might have "limited opportunities to reduce costs further".