Gwent Police performance concerns watchdog HMIC
The Gwent Police force could be putting crime fighting at risk as it tries to find savings, a watchdog has warned.
It is the only force in Wales told it "requires improvement" as it continues to implement budget cuts.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says the force faces "deteriorating performance" as vacant posts remain unfilled.
Police say the report does not reflect their "considerable work" in managing £28m in savings in the last five years.
But HMIC says its report also warns that over the last 12 months there has been a decline in the force's response to crime.
The report says: "HMIC is concerned that continuing to respond to the need for future savings by not replacing staff as they leave - without a thorough understanding of current and future demand - may mean that the force cannot maintain effective levels of service in Gwent.
"Further staffing reductions will prove necessary in order to balance future budgets. It is imperative that the force develops a structure which is sustainable and affordable in the future, and which protects vital crime fighting roles."
HOW THE OTHER WELSH FORCES FAIR
- North Wales Police's HMIC report: "The force has made 40% of its savings from non-pay costs, which has further limited the need to reduce the size of the workforce.
- Dyfed-Powys Police's HMIC report: "The force plans to have a greater proportion of its workforce and police officers in frontline crime-fighting roles than the figure for England Wales.
- South Wales Police's HMIC report: "The proportion of workforce reductions planned is considerably smaller than the figure for England and Wales."
Gwent Chief Constable Jeff Farrar said: "The report shows that we are projected to have 95% of our staff on frontline duties by 2015 which is where the public want to see them. This is 3% above the national average.
"As with all forces Gwent Police faces big financial cuts which is the largest of the Welsh forces.
"Despite our success so far we still need to deliver over £20m more savings by 2017 and this will have seen the funding of the force reduce by over £50m in the past seven years, which is nearly 30% of our total budget.
"This is all set against the most challenging period in the history of the force with a significant change in our operating systems and also hosting of the Nato summit," he said in reference to the international meeting of political leaders which is being seen by officers as a bigger security challenge than the London 2012 Olympics."
Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner Ian Johnston said "whilst there is no doubt we have some tough challenges ahead, we should not underestimate the fantastic work undertaken by Gwent Police already in achieving over £28m in recurring savings during the last five years".