The government is set to cut funding for one of its flagship law and order measures due to ‘severe financial pressures’, it has admitted.
Although no formal decision has been announced, the Home Office has already warned areas operating the 101 non-emergency number to expect a reduction in their cash.
Creating a national non-emergency phone number to take pressure off the 999 system and combat anti-social behaviour was a pledge in Labour’s manifesto for the last general election.
Five ‘Wave 1’ pilots were set up in Cardiff, Sheffield, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and Leicester and Rutland, and are widely regarded as successful.
But a scheduled expansion of the 101 project was suspended last October amid apparent fears over costs.
A verdict on the future of the scheme is due imminently, but a report by South Wales chief constable Barbara Wilding discloses that the Home Office has already told existing pilot areas to expect a cut in funding – which had been due to continue until at least 2010.
The news was relayed by the department’s senior responsible officer (SRO) for 101 at a meeting with representaives from all five areas over the summer.
According to Ms Wilding’s report – delivered to the South Wales Police Authority – the official said ‘severe financial pressures within the Home Office’ were to blame for the rethink of the expansion.
‘The SRO further advised that funding for Wave 1 Pilot sites was also under review,’ the report says.
‘The clear message from the Home Office was that funding for Wave 1 Pilot sites would be reduced, but no detail was given as to how much, or when.’
A source on the authority said they now believed it would take a ‘miracle’ for funding to be maintained at the current levels.
The Home Office has been accused of ‘quietly’ abandoning its manifesto pledge, after it emerged in June that administrative support for the project had been slashed.
Doubt was also cast on claims of ‘rising and uncertain’ costs when a freedom of information request revealed that the set-up bill for Wave 1 was £30,000 under budget at £7.47 million, and the annual running costs were below the £14.5 million estimated.
The non-emergency number had originally been due to roll out nationwide by 2008, with total development and implementation costs expected to top £140 million.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Ministers are currently considering the future of the non-emergency number. The service is still live and is currently being assessed.’
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