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We're at breaking point from austerity, warns Dorset police chief

Police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill (left) and Chief Constable James Vaughan
Police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill (left) and Chief Constable James Vaughan

DORSET police chiefs have warned further funding cuts will push the force to breaking point, saying the strains are “beginning to show”.

Chief Constable James Vaughan has issued a rebuke to the Conservative government after Chancellor Philip Hammond gave forces nationwide little help in his recent budget speech.

That has left Dorset Police with the prospect of having to find another £4m annually in the coming years – the constabulary has already shaved £25m from its yearly costs since the government austerity programme was introduced.

Stressing the force remained committed to providing the best possible policing service it could, the chief constable did not mince his words. He has called for more government funding help, with a crucial announcement on how much each constabulary gets just weeks away.

“I am extremely concerned that the stark reality of our current financial outlook means that we may no longer be able to provide anything but the most basic services to the most vulnerable sectors of our community,” CC Vaughan revealed.

“The Chancellor’s budget this year provided much-needed and welcome additional funding for health, education and defence, but identified no additional funds for police forces; only a very small one-off increase to support counter terrorism policing.

“This, combined with the potential changes to employer pension contributions and normal inflationary pressures, will remove more than £4m a year from the force budget in coming years.”

His concerns echo similar worries expressed by Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martyn Underhill.

In a report to the latest meeting of Dorset Police and Crime Panel on Tuesday, Mr Underhill reflected that for 2018/19 the force had to increase its share of the council tax precept, and it was possible this could rise further for 2019/20.

The force had experienced an “unprecedented” demand this summer, the panel was told.

Mr Vaughan said cuts had forced the constabulary to reduce its workforce by 500 staff. “This rate of decline simply cannot continue without having a significant impact on our services,” he said.

“In addition, I have a growing concern that demand for policing is now rising at an alarming rate. Crime and incidents across the county have increased by nearly 10% over the last year, and without an investment in resources that allow us to intervene early and prevent crime and anti-social behaviour I can only see that rise continuing.”

Mr Vaughan added: “The dynamics of crime over recent years have shifted markedly and we are now experiencing higher levels of arguably the most harmful crime such as sexual assaults, domestic assaults, child sexual exploitation, modern slavery and cybercrime.

“Not only are these crimes a high threat, they also require more specialised and time-consuming investigations in order to protect and safeguard victims, particularly those who are vulnerable.

“All of these pressures take their toll on my officers and staff who are working hard to deliver services in an increasingly difficult landscape. Their frustrations at being asked to deliver so much more with so much less are clear and the strain is beginning to show.”

The chief constable continued: “My predecessor and I have sought to save money by collaborating with partners such as Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Devon & Cornwall Police, but there are limited further efficiencies that can be made in those areas.

“Dorset Police is a good force, consistently judged to be efficient and effective by our independent inspectorate HMICFRS.

“As chief constable my responsibility is to serve the people of Dorset and to continue to provide all of our communities with a good policing service. I will continue to work with the PCC to do so, but it is becoming an increasing challenge.”

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