Police and fire services feel the financial heat

POLICE and fire services in South Yorkshire will feel the heat over the next 12 months as they respond to big cuts in Government grants.

Up to 100 front-line officers and 289 civilian support staff are to go as the police authority shapes up to a £15m budget shortfall – and more jobs are to be lost over the following four years.

Meanwhile the fire authority said it will use reserves to help find savings of £3m but it will have to reduce staffing costs in the face of “unprecedented” cuts.

As well as preparing to lose officers and staff this year, South Yorkshire Police estimates it will be 400 fewer officers and 700 staff jobs by 2015 as the county’s police authority tries to save £40m.

After setting a new budget of £256.95m, Chief Constable Med Hughes said: “We have set the best that we could perhaps hope for in the circumstances. “I know it’s a worrying time for staff and the figures seem quite large but the voluntary early severance scheme that the staff have signed up to means that we will deliver a balanced service, at least for the next year and probably the year after.

“There are risks that service options the public have come to rely on are cut out completely.”

Mr Hughes added that his “biggest fear” was losing support workers would mean front-line staff having to switch to routine administration.

Charles Perryman, who chairs the authority, said: “We are in this position not of our own making and we have to address the situation that we find ourselves in.

“Nevertheless, I still expect that the force will improve its performance next year, that there will be a reduction in overall crime levels and an increase in confidence in the police.”

Insp Bob Pitt, local chairman of the Police Federation, said: “When you get forces like ours where 80% of our budget comes from central government it is massively problematic when cuts on this scale are imposed.

“In good faith over the years we have embraced the government’s modernisation policy and as a result jobs have already gone and yet now we face the prospect of even more. It is difficult to see how cuts on this scale cannot have an impact on crime and disorder.”

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority has to find £12m savings over the next four years, facing bigger than average cuts because of changes in the Government grant system.

With a new budget of £56.6m, it is already reducing management and adminstrative costs by 25% and the non-filling of roles through natural wastage will be a substantial part of the savings.

Authority chair Coun Jim Andrews said: “We believe the financial plan for the next two years is viable but services will need to be organised in different ways – that is inevitable.

“However, efficiency savings as well as a budget underspend last year mean our reserves are fairly healthy and we can draw on those to help protect front-line services as well as prevent a council tax rise for this year. The picture beyond that is both challenging and uncertain and means it is difficult to plan beyond year two to the third or fourth year.”