Labour attacks cost of police commissioner plans
CUTTING police funding in Devon and Cornwall is a "reckless gamble with public safety" argue government critics, writes Nick Lester, Parliamentary Correspondent.
Labour say the loss of officers will inevitably impact on the frontline.
And senior party figures again questioned the coalition's plans to introduce new £120,000 a year US style police commissioners while forcing through budget reductions.
A recent decision to hold separate polls for the controversial post in November 2012, rather than at the same time as council elections in May, will see the total bill soar by 50 per cent to £75 million.
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Shadow Policing Minister Vernon Coaker said: "If you can find money to do that, why can't you find money to protect police officer numbers?"
Official figures show funding cuts of 20 per cent will see police numbers across England and Wales slashed by more than 16,000 by 2015.
Devon and Cornwall is faced with seeing its overall spending slashed by around 14 per cent over the next four years.
In the 12 month period to March 2011, the force lost 120 officers – a 3.4 per cent drop – down to an overall strength of 3,436.
Up to 2015 it is set to see a total of 746 officers axed – a 21 per cent cut.
On the impact of the cuts, Mr Coaker said: "They aren't going to be able to do what they have done in the past."
And with civilian staff also being cut, Mr Coaker believed officers would be forced to do some of these jobs, known as 'backfilling'.
Labour backs a 12 per cent overall cut in funding, which it argues could be achieved without impacting on police numbers.
Mr Coaker was also critical of holding the elections for police commissioners in November.
He said: "I would have done everything I can to get turnout up. I think it's a stupid time, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the policy."
A "fundamental flaw" in the plans was that the police commissioner would be able to sack the chief constable.
"It's unfettered power," he said.
"I personally think that's dangerous and wrong."
And he branded the police and crime panels, which are supposed to act as a check on the office, a "toothless watchdog".
Mr Coaker said Labour planned to field candidates for the elected offices, despite opposing the Government's policy.
"The commitment we have got is to stand candidates," he said.
It came after Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who led opposition to the creation of the posts claiming they were a waste of money and would lead to the politicisation of the police, indicated a possible boycott saying Labour would "look at the right way to respond".