Police cuts force bobbies off the beat in South Yorkshire

Moves to hand police community support officers (PCSOs) more responsibilities on the beat by South Yorkshire police are attracting a fierce backlash from opponents.

Proposals being considered by South Yorkshire police authority later making PCSOs the first line of contact with members of the public have been dismissed as a "storm in a teacup" by Chief Constable David Crompton.

But they face significant opposition from local campaigners and in the Commons, who fear the tradition of 'bobbies on the beat' is being fundamentally eroded in the move.

Each PCSO costs two-thirds the police bill for a fully warranted officer. With the Home Office facing cuts of 20% many police forces could be attracted by the savings on offer by frontline policing.

South Yorkshire Police Federation chair Neil Boles said that PCSOs were "not as accountable" as police officers to the law, however. As civilians they have the power to join a trade union, meaning any future disputes could see public order at stake.

Home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz told the Today programme that the change could result in more money being spent.

"Instead of having two for the price of one you're going to have two for the price of two," he suggested. "If they can't deal with the situation on the front line they're going to have to ring a warranted officer and they're going to have to turn up."

South Yorkshire police is cutting 430 jobs as part of the 16,000 job reductions across England and Wales.

Labour said frontline policing, which David Cameron had promised to protect, was being eroded further. Five thousand police officers have already been taken out of 999 response teams, neighbourhead teams and traffic units, Yvette Cooper said.

The shadow home secretary added: "The government is out of touch with people's concerns and taking risks with crime and anti-social behaviour.

"They should urgently think again on the scale of police cuts they are forcing through."

Ch Const Crompton told the Today programme that the sense that sworn officers were "just going to abandon the streets" was inaccurate.

"People have chosen to paint this in a radical way. Actually, from my perspective… this has been going on for a little while," he explained.

"This is just a bit of reorganisation to try to realign the skills and powers of the staff we've got.

"In an age when we've got less resource than we used to have, this is the sort of thing people would expect us at least to be thinking about and having an open mind to.

"It's a bit of a storm in a teacup and has been blown out of all proportion, frankly."