One of Britain's largest rural police forces will effectively go out of business within three years, its Chief Constable has warned.
Neil Rhodes, the head of Lincolnshire Police, said under the current funding arrangements, his force would be “unsustainable” by 2018 and will be the “first in the country to fall”.
In a stark letter to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, which has been seen by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Rhodes warned that the implications for public safety and security could not be more serious.
He said the proposed budget for the coming years would leave a shortfall of £10.4 million, meaning his only option would be to axe a fifth of his front line officers in order to balance the books.
Mr Rhodes warned that under that structure, bobbies on the beat would be a thing of the past in Lincolnshire, while those officers left would take much longer to respond to 999 calls.
He said minor offences such as criminal damage and theft would have to be largely ignored, while investigations into issues such as historic child sex abuse and cybercrime would stop.
Mr Rhodes also said his officers would no longer be able to travel to other parts of the country to help out with major events or disturbances, such as the London Olympics or summer riots.
“If we were a business, then it would be being funded at below the cost of being in business. The cupboard is bare and it is likely that we will be the first force in the country to fall over,” he said.
Geographically, Lincolnshire is one of the largest forces in the country, covering almost 2,300 square miles.
But with few urban conurbations and a relatively low population, the force has one of the smallest staff of all 43 forces in England and Wales.
It has already slashed the number of officers from 1,220 to 1,100, but Mr Rhodes said the current budget proposals mean a further 236 front line officers will have to go.
He said those cuts were simply unsustainable and would mean the force could no longer operate effectively.
He said: “In 2016-17, Lincolnshire Police will be, on the basis of current financial projections, on the edge of viability. In the following year it will be unsustainable.” Mr Rhodes said every cost saving measure available had been exhausted and the only option left was to start making officers redundant.
But he said: “To cut officer numbers by the amount needed would mean service degradation to a level that would be unacceptable to our communities and compromise both public safety and officer safety.
He added: “Public confidence in policing and those charged with providing it, will be severely eroded.” Every force in the country has had to make swingeing cuts after the Government announced a 20 per cent reduction in police funding as part of the 2010 austerity cuts.
Forces have outsourced many non-frontline roles to private companies such as G4S and have also sought to save money by sharing resources between neighbouring constabularies.
But Mr Rhodes said his force had embraced every cost saving initiatives available and he had now reached the conclusion that there was no fat left to trim.
He said across the board funding cuts did not take account of the different structure of each of the 43 police forces and large rural constabularies were being placed at an unfair disadvantage.
He said: “Having balanced our books in probably the most challenging position in the country, we firmly believe we are an exemplar of good practice and efficiency, yet find our very future threatened by an anomalous funding formula and the blunt instrument of straight percentage cuts.” He added: “When the Lincolnshire public understand they will be receiving a poorer quality of policing while paying more than most others they will be very unhappy.”
Mr Rhodes said: “In my 28-years in policing I have always been a moderniser and have sought to find ways to be efficient and save money, but in this case I'm afraid we have hit the buffers.”
He is now appealing for a meeting with Mrs May in order to discuss the looming crisis.
Last month Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, warned that police forces would have to adjust from “simply surviving” with lower budgets to regarding the new funding levels as “business as usual”.
He noted that forces in England and Wales had seen their budgets reduce by £2.53 billion over the current spending review period.
In an earlier report, published in July, Mr Winsor warned that almost half of police forces could struggle to respond to riots, murders and rapes in as little as three years’ time if budget cuts continued at current levels.
He said 18 of the 42 forces across England and Wales may not be able to withstand further reductions to their budgets and could have a serious impact on their ability to fight crime.
“Their limited options for savings will push them to make deeper cuts to neighbourhood policing and they may struggle to respond to unexpected events – for example, public order issues such as rioting or demonstrations or a major crime such as a murder, kidnap or rape,” said Mr Winsor’s report.
Police leaders have become increasingly vocal in their concerns about the cuts, although Mr Rhodes’ comments go beyond anything other senior officers have admitted in public before.
In September the Conservative police and crime commissioner whose force covers the constituencies of both Mrs May and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said cuts had “gone too far”.
Anthony Stansfeld, who oversees Thames Valley Police, spoke out against his party because he feared “extraordinary” budget cuts would lead to rising crime in the area.
The commissioner warned that he would be forced to get rid of one in every 10 police officers to save the required millions off his budget.
Mrs May has praised the police for achieving what she has described as excellent results at a time of public spending austerity.
She said forces were “doing more with less” and described the police as “the model public service in the era of budget cuts”.
Jack Dromey, Shadow Policing Minister said: “Government cuts to policing are now threatening the existence of police forces and threatening the safety of both the public and police officers.
“Police forces across the country have done their best to cope with the scale of the cuts already inflicted by Government. Already 16,000 police officers have gone. The Home Office is planning a further cut of up to 25% to the police budget. At least a further 16,000 police officers would go, the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned.
“In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor refused to spell out the consequences of the biggest police cuts in Europe. Now we know the truth. Public safety will be put at risk. The Chancellor must come clean on the looming disaster for British Policing.”