NORTHUMBRIA Police is to make up to 450 staff redundant as it looks to make £34m worth of Government-ordered cuts.
The move does not include Police Officers or Community Support Officers at present, but further cuts could be introduced over the next four years.
Last night there were fears that removing hundreds of support staff from their posts would reduce officers’ ability to fight crime effectively.
Civilian staff at the force were yesterday asked to consider applying for voluntary redundancy. A recruitment freeze for both officers and other staff is already under way and the force has said it wants to reduce the workforce as much as possible through natural turnover.
While officers and frontline PCSOs have not been asked to consider leaving, Northumbria has said it may have to revise its cuts programme.
The full extent of the funding blow will not be known until December at the earliest, although the force insisted it will act to reduce bureaucracy and red-tape first rather then cut frontline jobs.
With 4,145 police offers and a civilian workforce – including Community Support officers – of 2,551, the cuts will bring about substantial reduction in head count at the force.
Last night Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said taking 20% of the civilian workforce away would make it harder to keep the streets safer, and laid the blame at the feet of the coalition Government.
He said: “Police staff do vital work including finger printing, scene of crime, emergency control room operators, and working as detention officers. They play a hugely important role in policing and combating crime.
“We have a commitment from the force to avoid compulsory redundancies, and we will be holding them to it by looking into other ways of saving money, including dipping into the force’s reserves.”
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson, who sits on the Commons Home Affairs committee, said ministers had to admit the reductions would be reflected in crime levels. She added: “I know that Northumbria Police will do all they can to minimise the impact of the Government’s cuts.
“However, a recruitment freeze and the uncertainty about the future of PCSOs will inevitably lead to a reduction in frontline policing.
“It is astonishing that the Government can claim that 20% cuts won’t have an effect in our communities.”
Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim said: “I am absolutely committed to maintaining frontline policing and the services we offer to our communities. I will protect as far as possible the number of neighbourhood and response officers who work direct with the public.
“Northumbria is a high-performing force and we will not compromise our excellent standards nor falter in our determination to continue to reduce crime and anti social behaviour.”
Ms Sim added: “Our attention will focus on those areas where bureaucracy can be reduced and processes can be streamlined to maximise effectiveness in support of operational policing.”
Russ Watson, chair of the force’s police federation, said he remained cautious about the impact on officers.
He said: “We await the outcome of the force’s business reviews, and how this will impact on police officer numbers.
“The public want police officers on our streets combating crime and disorder. Any reductions will have a knock on effect with the service the police provide.”
Mick Henry, chair of the Northumbria Police Authority, responsible for setting the force’s budget, said the next few years “will be very financially challenging”.
He added: “We have to find considerable savings over the next four years and this means we need to look at all options available to us. This includes inviting police staff to apply for voluntary redundancy.”