ONGOING Government funding cutbacks are stretching the already thin blue line and may have "serious implications" for the future of Cheshire police's ability to tackle crime.

That's the view of Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Keane, who is urgently calling for increased funding for police in the region.

The call comes after new figures reveal Cheshire police close investigations without identifying a suspect in three quarters of household burglaries and two thirds of reported vehicle thefts.

They also ended around four in 10 shoplifting cases with the same outcome.

Across the three offences, around 6,000 investigations in Cheshire were shut with no suspected culprit in the frame, the Press Association found.

PCC Keane said: “During a period where police funding has decreased, we have seen an increase in the number of complex crimes police, both locally and nationally, are dealing with.

"This has put increased strain on our officers and pressure on our already stretched thin blue line.

“I hold regular discussions with the acting chief constable [Janette McCormick] about how we can juggle our resources to tackle low level crime to keep our communities safe.

"But the government has not recognised or acknowledged how their lack of funding is impacting community safety."

The figures were extracted from Home Office crime outcomes data, and cover the 12 months to March 2018.

They show that out of the 2,797 household burglary cases opened over that period by Cheshire Police, 77 per cent were categorised as "investigation complete - no suspect identified".

This is used when a reported crime has been investigated "as far as reasonably possible" and the case is closed pending further investigative opportunities.

Of the total burglary cases, Cheshire Police brought 221 people to court.

The statistics have been revealed in the same week as a National Audit Office report shows Cheshire Constabulary's funding was cut between 2015-16 and 2018-19 by two per cent – a figure that is larger when inflation is taken into account.

Across the UK, police funding has also been hit as ongoing austerity measures continue to bite.

However, and in contrast to many policing authorities across England, Cheshire has bucked the trend by increasing the number of officers it has in its ranks during that time.

Cheshire Constabulary employed 2,020 officers in March this year, 68 more than three years previously.

PCC Keane added: "In Cheshire, we’ve seen a 37 per cent real term cut to our policing budget since 2010. I am doing everything I can to protect front line policing and make back office functions more efficient but our already thin blue line is now at breaking point.

“Crime is becoming more complex and we need increased investment from government to tackle the challenges we face. Our police officers are working harder than ever with increased pressure and ever diminishing resources, yet the government ignored the recommendation of an independent board to give them a three per cent pay rise. "Instead, they recommended that they should only be given a two per cent rise which is to be funded entirely by already stretched local police budgets.

“This shows central government’s lack of understanding of the difficult position police services across the country are in and I am concerned about the long-term impact this could have on our communities.

“I will continue to work with other elected representatives locally to campaign for a fairer funding settlement for policing in Cheshire to allow us to put in place the necessary resources to protect residents.

"Thanks to local residents in Cheshire supporting a rise in their policing element of council tax, we have been able to maintain officer numbers over the last year, but it does not sit comfortable with me that the government is relying on the council tax payer of Cheshire to make up their shortfall.

“We are doing everything we can to find savings by improving processes, finding efficiencies through stronger collaboration and by streamlining the police estate to generate long-term savings.

"However, we have now exhausted nearly all of our options for efficiency savings and depleted our reserves.

"If the government does not provide further funding for policing in Cheshire, this may have serious implications on what we can do in the future.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs committee, said: "Too many investigations are closing without suspects being identified and we are hearing increasing reports of the police being too overstretched to investigate.

"Police forces are under immense pressure with rising serious and violent crime and changing patterns of crime alongside cuts in the numbers of officers and PCSOs.

"These figures suggest that investigations into volume crimes are now being hit. Failing to identify suspects gives criminals a green light to reoffend."

Of the 928 vehicle thefts recorded in Cheshire, 67 per cent ended up with no suspect being identified, while in the 7,532 shoplifting cases, 3,053 of them were closed with the same outcome.

The police charged 83 suspects with car theft, and 2,251 for shoplifting.

RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams said motorists will be "shocked" by the findings.

"This is a sign that thieves have found ways around car security systems and have ways of selling vehicles on with little or no fear of being caught," he said.

Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for acquisitive crime, said increased demand and fewer officer numbers have led to forces prioritising cases with a realistic prospect of prosecution.

She added: "Police investigate all cases of theft, burglary and shoplifting. Particularly for these types of offences, police focus on targeting prolific offenders, organised crime networks, and ensuring prevention measures by homeowners and businesses are in place."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We expect the police to take all reports of crime seriously, to investigate and to bring the offenders to court so that they can receive appropriate punishment.

"However we recognise that crime is changing and police demand is becoming increasingly complex. That is why we have provided a strong and comprehensive £13 billion funding settlement to ensure the police have the resources they need to carry out their vital work."

A Home Office spokesman also denied the report’s suggestion that ministers do not understand the effects of police cuts.

He said: "Our decision to empower locally-accountable Police and Crime Commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean that we do not understand the demands on police forces.

"In addition, the report does not recognise the strengths of PCCs and Chief Constables leading on day-to-day policing matters, including on financial sustainability.

"We remain committed to working closely with police and delivered a £460 million increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax."