THE drive to cut costs in the face of severe reductions in funding from central government could see police in Swindon and Wiltshire reduced to the bare minimum, a top police official has said.

A baseline of 1,000 officers has been set in place by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, below which point the force would not be able to operate in the correct capacity.

Since 2010 there has already been a reduction of 13 per cent in the number of officers based in Wiltshire and Swindon, and further cuts could be made to the current number of 1,060 officers across the county.

Drastic savings have had to be made in recent years as government funding is expected to fall by 23 per cent between 2010 and 2016, and a consultation is underway about the possibility of increasing the police precept in council tax by £3.15 a year for the average home.

Speaking at the West Swindon Forum, Kieran Kilgallen, chief executive of the police and crime commissioner’s office in Wiltshire, said: “We are putting down a steady state of 1,000 officers across Wiltshire. We think that any number less than that would not be viable.

“Since 2010 police officer numbers have dropped by 13 per cent, but support staff have taken the biggest hit as their numbers have fallen by 19 per cent.

“We anticipate a total reduction in grants to Wiltshire of £17m, or 23 per cent, by 2016. The total funding gap as a result will be £12m. Additionally, the element of funding in council tax has been frozen since 2010. It has been possible to maintain a service because of freeze grants in each of those three years.

“However, in two to four years time further grants will be removed in one way or another. Wiltshire and Swindon has the lowest precept of any region in the south west, and the third lowest nationally, and are performing very well in consideration of that.”

Proposals to increase the council tax precept would raise £750,000 for the force, while the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner comes in at £900,000 a year. Significant investment has also had to be made, with £8m being spent on IT infrastructure.

South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: “Wiltshire Police are doing everything they can to protect front-line services. They have had to make savings for the last few years, even before 2010, because they knew the overall picture of public spending would change, irrespective of who was in Government.

“As a force they have put themselves in as good a position as possible in terms of the reduction in their expenditure, and the work they have done so far is the right approach.”

Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “Ensuring value for money while maintaining high quality services is very important to me. We are embracing new ways of working smarter, working with other PCCs and police forces in the south west and local partners.”