Police chief warns of reduced service to meet budget cuts

SENIOR police officers in South Yorkshire yesterday issued their sternest warning yet over budget cuts in the force, saying that services would have to be reviewed to achieve savings of £40m over the next three years.

Members of South Yorkshire's police authority, which oversees the work of police managers and officers on the ground, are due to be given a briefing on the emerging situation at a meeting in Barnsley on Friday.

But yesterday the county's chief constable Meredydd Hughes spoke about the forthcoming decisions and said it was likely he and his team would be forced to make choices that would be unpopular with some sections of the community.

Mr Hughes said: "The next couple of years will be a challenge to our resourcefulness.

"We don't engage in wasteful or unnecessary activity. Local policing has developed in a balanced way for very good reasons and there are risks that service options the public have come to rely on are cut out completely.

"Nevertheless we have to be realistic and every public service will have to take a hard look at what it does and how it does it. We will work closely with the police authority to head off any adverse impact."

In his report to Friday's meeting, Mr Hughes outlines the figures facing accountants and senior officers who will attempt to balance the force's books as Government cuts begin to bite.

One of the major problems identified is that there is no prospect in a reduction in demand for police services, with some forecasts predicting an increase in calls because of cutbacks in other public sector organisations.

Mr Hughes's report says: "The authority must plan for a real-term reduction in resources of up to 20 per cent over the next four years. This could have a significant impact on the authority's ability to sustain services to the community.

"Managing with fewer resources at a time when demands on local policing are likely to increase could require different approaches to the service, and a fresh look at prioritisation and the best means of delivering value for money.

"It will be possible to achieve a balanced financial budget in 2011-12 by relying on natural wastage and other savings opportunities, but it will be necessary even at this initial stage to review service priorities.

"Beyond 2011-12, the challenge will be even higher and the authority, in conjunction with the chief constable, must have a clear and affordable vision for policing in South Yorkshire."

The chief constable adds that he sees "risks" in concentrating on one area of policing to the exclusion of others to save cash, adding: "Gaps will be created, which could lead to imbalances which in the long term are counterproductive."

The chairman of South Yorkshire Police Authority, Charles Perryman, said yesterday that members recognised that there were huge challenges ahead and vowed to support senior officers as much as possible while ensuring cuts were made.

He added: "The force has made impressive progress in the last few years on cutting crime and increasing public confidence. We don't want to lose that momentum if we can avoid it.

"We know that the money will reduce, and the challenge will be to get the most out of every pound.

"We will be asking the chief constable to concentrate his resources on maintaining safer communities, and we will be supporting him in looking at new ways of working with partners to protect services.

"While we will be setting targets for cost reduction, we recognise that at some point over the next few years, it may be necessary to review the range and the level of services that are affordable.

"We will support the force in minimising the impact of any reductions which are forced on us because of the financial situation."