THE number of Police Community Support Officers planned for Bolton is being slashed following a reduction in Government funding.

It had been hoped the town would have 90 PCSOs by April, 2008 - 39 more than at present. But the total number has now been reduced to 70.

The cuts have sparked angry criticism from Greater Manchester Police chiefs.

Chief Supt Dave Lea, head of Bolton police, said: "The simple and stark fact is that we're now not going to be able to have the numbers of visible uniformed patrolling officers we had planned."

The Government has decided to cut funding for PCSOs nationally from £340 million to £235 million.

Money remains in place to recruit 16,000 more across the country by April, 2007, but funding for a further 8,000 over 2007/08 has been lost.

The 974 PCSOs Greater Manchester Police had planned to recruit by April, 2008, is likely to be slashed by about a third.

Government policing minister Tony McNulty said he and Home Secretary John Reid had accepted police advice that 24,000 PCSOs were not needed.

But Cllr Cox said: "What the police asked for was flexibility to use the money for PCSOs to recruit more regular officers or more office staff to put existing officers back on the beat.

"The Government has reduced the number of PCSOs but we are not getting the money back."

Cllr Cox said the force was losing 201 police officers during 2006/07, with seven of them in Bolton.

He added. "We wanted to retain officers at their current levels and add PCSOs to the mix."

Chief Supt Lea, said: "This is a real disappointment because we had planned our deployment and delivery of safer neighbourhood policing based upon what we were told by the Government.

"The numbers of visible uniformed patrolling officers are just not going to be there because I can't find that money from any other source.

"We are going to have to get our thinking caps on because we've made committments to the public of Bolton."

Bolton currently has 51 PCSOs. They do not have the power of arrest but can detain a suspect for 30 minutes and have limited powers to tackle problems such as anti-social behaviour.