Increase in bobbies hit by cash fears

Ambitious plans to increase the number of bobbies on the beat in Norfolk have been scaled back over uncertainty about long-term financial stability.Chief constable Ian McPherson had pledged to recruit an extra 100 frontline officers as well as 40 who would work behind the scenes on issues like major investigations as part of his review of how the force works.

Ambitious plans to increase the number of bobbies on the beat in Norfolk have been scaled back over uncertainty about long-term financial stability.

Chief constable Ian McPherson had pledged to recruit an extra 100 frontline officers as well as 40 who would work behind the scenes on issues like major investigations as part of his review of how the force works.

But yesterday Norfolk Police Authority heard that the target of bringing the number of officers in the county up to 1,700 has been revised and the force will now aim for 1,660.

The meeting at police headquarters in Wymondham was told that appointing an extra 100 officers would have increased the force's budget by £4m whereas appointing an extra 60 would cost £2.7m.

Assistant chief officer Rupert Birtles said the target had always been flexible depending on financial forecasts, which are based on factors such as expected grant settlements from the government and increases in costs.

Treasurer Bob Summers said: “The prospect for public spending are very uncertain and we cannot predict the impact of this in future years.”

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The force has reviewed how much money is likely to be available and has reduced the target to ensure it is sustainable. It remains possible that this target will be increased or reduced further in future.

Chief executive Chris Harding said: “It is important to remember we will have still delivered an extra 100 front line staff in addition to the recruitment of 280 police community support officers.”

The meeting also heard that the rate at which the force reaches its recruitment target has been hampered by the number of officers leaving the force exceeding expectations.

However, authority members heard there is no evidence that this is a sign of an exodus brought about by controversial changes to shift patterns. One cause appears to be the fact that large numbers of officers were recruited in 1978, meaning a higher than normal proportion have this year reached the 30-year mark at which they can claim their pension.

Authority member Ken Turner said that it was important to avoid a “head counting exercise” as this is not the only measure of the force's effectiveness. “There is a broader picture of people working smarter,” he added.

Norfolk has for several years had one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population in the country. Latest figures show that force every 100,000 people in Norfolk there are just 191 police officers. There has been a slight decline in this ratio in recent years, largely due to the county's growing population.