Traditional but “old fashioned” police stations face the axe, while officer numbers are set to drop, following this week’s Budget.
Nick Herbert, the policing minister, has said some police should be based in community centres or even high-street shops rather than “under-visited” police stations.
And he suggested a police force should not be judged by how many officers it has.
Prime minister David Cameron also refused to rule out there would be fewer police in five years time.
The two were talking a day after chancellor George Osborne warned government departments faced cuts of 25%.
One academic told the Daily Telegraph such reductions in the Home Office’s police budget would be the equivalent of 35,000 fewer officers and thousands of civilian staff, while a chief constable warned the cuts will impact on front-line policing.
Colin Talbot, professor of public policy at Manchester Business School, said a 25% cut in the £5bn police budget would be the equivalent of 35,000 police officers, 20,000 civilian staff and 4,000 community support officers.
“It is certainly going to affect front-line services in a very big way, and I do not think people have appreciated yet what the impact in front-line services is going to be,” he said.
On police stations, Herbert said: “There are ways other than old-fashioned, under-visited police stations for the police to have a footprint or base in their communities – sharing community premises, or a shop front on the local parade, for instance.”
He added: “Too often, we’ve assumed that success equates to size. The test of an effective police force is not how much it costs or the number of police officers it employs.”
The Daily Telegraph disclosed in September that police stations are closing at the rate of one a month.
Figures provided by 12 of the 43 forces in England and Wales showed that 35 stations closed between 2006-07 and 2008-09 – the equivalent of one a month – while just 12 new ones opened.