Police in "tight" times; Bedford ranked worst

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LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) Police forces in England and Wales are facing financially tight times, the government today warned, as data showed some forces were severely underperforming.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said investment in policing would enter a ''more flat-line period'' after seven or eight years of growth.

He was speaking as the government was publishing its long-awaited comprehensive spending review and as performance data showed some forces had problems.

However, McNulty rejected the notion that the public was not getting ''bang for their buck'' from the police service.

''The notion that this is still an inefficient public service is wrong,'' he told reporters.

''The notion that this is the last bastion of unreconstructed 1960s public service, again, couldn't be farther from the truth.'' Speaking as the Home Office released annual performance data for 2006/07, chief inspector of constabulary Sir Ronnie Flanagan conceded there were ''issues'' within certain forces.

The assessment covers seven key performance areas, including tackling crime, protecting vulnerable people, neighbourhood policing, satisfaction and efficiency.

Bedfordshire came bottom of the 43 forces in England and Wales, receiving three ''poor'' grades out of seven categories.

When ranked in a league table, the performance gave it just one point out of a possible 21.

Greater Manchester, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Thames Valley all received seven points.

At the other end of the scale, Lancashire and Surrey received 18 out of a possible 21.

The Home Office does not add up each force's marks, saying it is erroneous to compile a national league table, as similar forces only should be compared with each other.

It said police performance had broadly improved, with more forces scoring ''excellent'' or ''good'' ratings and fewer being given ''poor'' grades.

Three-quarters of forces received an excellent or good grading on tackling crime and, overall, victim satisfaction, increased.

The assessments also examine whether police performance is improving, stable of deteriorating in three key areas: tackling crime; satisfaction and fairness; and resources and efficiency.

Police in the City of London were judged to have deteriorated in two out of three categories. Seven other forces received a ''deteriorated'' grade in one area.

REUTERS SG BD1707

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