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Police budget 'on a cliff edge'

By Rod Minchin

A senior police chief warned today of the dangers of further cuts to his force's budget, saying it put them on a "metaphorical cliff edge".

Gloucestershire Police is already making annual savings of £24 million from its £103 million budget but is facing additional cuts.

Chief Constable Tony Melville said that the county force was in a "perfect storm" and he had never seen anything like it in his 34-year policing career.

Mr Melville was speaking out after his senior officers, police staff and rank and file officers all publicly expressed concerns at the financial pressures facing Gloucestershire Police.

Members of the local Police Federation are also to debate a motion of no confidence in the Gloucestershire Police Authority, which oversees the force.

The Police Authority is considering an offer from the Government to freeze council tax this year - including the police precept - in return for a £1.3 million grant now.

However, it would have to save the same amount again over four years and would not be able to increase the precept.

Mr Melville said: "Here in Gloucestershire we are potentially in the middle of the perfect storm.

"Never before in my 34 years of policing have I experienced an issue which has galvanised staff and officers in the way that this has and I feel compelled to respond.

"We are cutting much, much deeper than was ever intended or required by the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review).

"So in a small force, a series of local decisions have combined to take us to a metaphorical cliff edge much more quickly than others.

"The letters sent this week are written by bodies which represent every part of the Constabulary - both officers and staff and spanning across all ranks.

"The content is strong, with one even confirming a vote of no confidence in the Authority, but they are not scaremongering.

"They air genuine concerns which I share and also worry could become a reality for this county.

"The irony is that we have a good plan - one previously-agreed by the Police Authority, commended by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and supported by my staff.

"It is a plan which can deliver a good quality of service to the public, whilst still making the savings required.

"But it is only possible to continue with that plan if this extra cut is not imposed.

"As Chief Constable, I will work tirelessly to provide the best policing possible with the money that I am given.

"However, it is quite possible that, in the future, it will look very different to what the public have come to know and expect from us."

The force is making savings by selling-off 13 police stations and replacing many of them with "police points" in community buildings.

Ian Anderson, chairman of the Gloucestershire Police Federation, said: "The Government has imposed savage cuts to police budgets nationally, which has seen the Chief Constable having to make savings of £16 million on top of cuts already imposed by the Authority of over £8 million.

"The Police Authority is meant, we believe, to provide the foundations for the Chief Constable to be enabled to deliver policing in the county.

"But what we see is that at every turn politicians - both local and national - are undermining Mr Melville's plans and aims to keep the public of Gloucestershire safe.

"Instead, by taking the Government grant, the Police Authority are putting the public in danger of becoming a victim, as the criminal's chance of going undetected increases as resources dwindle.

"How can our Chief Constable succeed when those delegated to provide the tools he will need, provide less, whilst busy picking his pocket at the same time?"

Responding to Mr Melville's comments, Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, said: "These are astonishingly hard hitting words from a Chief Constable who has been put in an impossible position by the Government.

"For the Gloucestershire Chief Constable to describe his force's financial position as on a 'cliff-edge' is a deeply damning indictment of the scale of Government cuts.

"The Government must heed the serious warnings from Chief Constables and police officers across the country before it is too late."

The Authority will consider the Government offer at a meeting on February 9.

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