A DISPUTE has arisen over how many extra police officers – if any – can be funded by Wiltshire’s first police and crime commissioner in their first four-year term following the election on November 15.

PCCs are being brought in by the Government to replace police authorities in England and Wales, and will have the power to hire and fire chief constables and set the force’s budget and strategy.

All candidates agree the post-holder will face financial challenges, with the Government seeking to reduce its funding to forces nationwide in the coming years to help with the national budget deficit.

However, there is much disagreement over how many new warranted officers, if any, can be squeezed from an annual budget of around £100m.

Wiltshire Police started 2012/13 with 1,085 police officers, 264 special constables, 155 police community support officers and 957 support staff.

Independent candidate Colin Skelton is promising 300 more officers and claims he would achieve this by not paying six-figure salaries to new government posts, ring-fencing money from people who leave the organisation and channelling it to recruitment, and focusing all activities on the delivery of frontline services.

He said: “All the political parties look at police recruitment as a cost, whereas I see it as an investment in reducing crime. Crime is expensive; a 15 per cent reduction in burglary, criminal damage and car crime alone would save the county £16m every year.”

UKIP candidate John Short is offering to pay for 150 more officers by finding back office savings, possibly converting some of the PCSOs to PCs, and amalgamating financial processing and procurement functions with other forces or councils.

He said: “As far as I’m concerned, from police officers on the ground, the situation in Swindon is fraught because it lacks the manpower.”

Lib Dem candidate Paul Batchelor and independent Liam Silcocks both say they would seek to increase numbers but refuse to state by how much unless they secure the post.

“I wouldn’t put a figure on it,” said Mr Batchelor.

“It would take some time to work through, but I’m conscious they’re understaffed at the moment so I would look to increase them.”

Mr Silcocks said: “What I would want to do is divert a lot of wasted money into recruiting more officers but I don’t think anybody can come up with numbers because until anybody gets in there – you won’t know the state of play.”

Conservative candidate Angus Macpherson said 300 extra officers would cost £12.6m a year, before any associated costs such as training, and claimed Mr Skelton’s budget was unrealistic against reducing Wiltshire Police’s budget of £3m a year.

“A total 1,060 is sustainable for providing services for policing in Wiltshire against the demand profile for the future,” he said.

Labour’s candidate Clare Moody said: “The majority of the budget isn’t set within Wiltshire.

“None of the candidates will have the absolute figures until after the election when we will be able to do the detailed scrutiny.

“But frankly it’s irresponsible to say we can conjure up extra money when it’s clear what the financial climate will be.

“So saying you can increase the police numbers by nearly one third strikes me as unrealistic.

“I cannot say absolutely I would increase numbers, but that’s a desire.”