Policing blow to Norfolk

Ben KendallPlans to bolster police numbers in Norfolk will be abandoned as chiefs fight to protect the frontline in the face of swingeing cuts.Ben Kendall

Plans to bolster police numbers in Norfolk will be abandoned as chiefs fight to protect the frontline in the face of swingeing cuts.

Norfolk police had been preparing to meet the 'challenging' target of cutting �16m over three years from its annual budget of �147m - but the savings target has risen to �24m following Tuesday's budget, presenting a direct threat to the thin blue line. Nationally it is thought between 25,000 and 35,000 police posts could be axed.

The 1,660 officer-strong force will next month complete a review of backroom functions, likely to lead to civilian redundancies across the board. This had been designed to free-up funds to strengthen the frontline by combining some departments with Suffolk police. But bosses yesterday admitted they now face a battle just to maintain current levels.

Commenting on the bleak financial outlook, Norfolk Police Authority chairman Stephen Bett said: 'We already faced challenging efficiency savings, but this goes way beyond challenging towards draconian. We know it's going to be eye-watering, we just don't yet know precisely how eye-watering.

'We will do our utmost to protect safer neighbourhood teams, protective services and other areas which are key to operational policing. But whereas the emphasis had been on bolstering the frontline, we must now look to protect it as best we can.

'There will need to be a serious rethink how we police and one thing we can be sure of is that policing won't be the same as it is now.'

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Police authority chief executive Chris Harding said the force had plans in place to maintain current strength for the current financial year, but said 'there can be no guarantees beyond that'.

It presents a double blow for the local criminal justice system as it emerged magistrates courts in Swaffham, Thetford, Cromer and Lowestoft could be forced to close. They were branded 'under-used and inadequate' by the Ministry of Justice.

Paul Allen, chairman of Norwich magistrates, said: 'It will certainly have a knock-on effect on the courts that remain.'

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