LONDON (Reuters) - The number of police officers is likely to fall after the government cut police funding by a fifth over the next four years but the situation is not as bad as had been feared, according to the body that represents rank and file officers. In the spending review announced on Wednesday, Chancellor George Osborne announced that central government funding for the police service will be cut by 20 percent in real terms by 2014-15.
The Treasury said resources would actually only be reduced by 14 percent in real terms providing funding from local taxation remained at the level forecast.
“By cutting costs and scrapping bureaucracy we are saving hundreds of thousands of man hours -- our aim is to avoid any reduction in the visibility and availability of police in our streets,” Osborne said.
He said spending on fighting terrorism, earmarked as one of the greatest threats to the country by Britain’s new National Security Strategy unveiled this week, would be prioritized.
Senior officials had warned that severe cuts would jeopardize Britain’s security. However, it will still be reduced by 10 percent.
“We have been assured this will maintain our operational capabilities against both al Qaeda and its affiliates and against Northern Irish terrorist threats,” Osborne said.
“This will enable us to meet the terrorist threat and protect the Olympic Games in 2012.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said police forces would cut waste to ensure spending on frontline officers was protected.
Police pay and conditions will be modernized, central targets will be removed and there will be increased efficiencies in the police “back office.”
The government will also proceed with plans to bring in directly elected commissioners to oversee the priorities of individual forces which May said would ensure resources were properly targeted.
“I believe that by improving efficiency, driving out waste, and increasing productivity we can maintain a strong police service, a secure border and effective counter-terrorism capabilities whilst delivering significant savings,” she said.
The Police Federation, the body that represents ordinary officers in England and Wales, had forecast severe cuts which could mean the loss of 40,000 policing jobs.
It said the planned reduction would be more manageable.
“We are still likely to see a reduction in police officer numbers and the varying demands on the service increase all the time,” said Paul McKeever, the Federation chairman.
“These cuts could mean that areas not covered by other agencies, such as dealing with people on the streets with mental illness, drug and alcohol issues and missing person enquiries, are the ones that suffer.”
Editing by Steve Addison