West Midlands Police is set for a £24.1 million underspend despite having to axe 1,100 officers – because so many are opting to leave.
The budget surplus has been run up in six months, sparking a recruitment drive, because of a stampede towards the door.
The cash-strapped force has a five-year plan to axe 1,100 officers by 2015 – an average of 220 a year as part of savings of £126 million needed by then.
High levels of stress and low morale have been blamed by the Police Federation, after a recent survey of officers revealed the shocking news that more than half wanted to leave.
In spite of trying to cut numbers, West Midlands Police could restart its recruitment programme after admitting that too many officers have volunteered to leave the force.
An extra 29 police officers have been lost since April – above and beyond those targeted to be eased out – and a further 12 members of police support staff are being lost every month.
The leavers are in addition to the 2,700 jobs that are have been planned to be lost by 2015.
The majority of those are civilian staff, but also include 1,100 police officers who will are forced to retire after clocking up 30 years of service.
The Strategic Policing and Crime Board was told that there had been an under spend in the budget of £24.1 million since April.
And more than £5.6 million of that figure has been saved with the unexpected loss of extra police officers, police support staff and savings from officers on maternity leave.
Chief finance officer for the police and crime commissioner, Mike Williams, said: “Recruitment opportunities can be considered as we put funding into place.
“The savings within pay continue the theme of securing reductions required early for the next financial year.
“Based upon these assumptions future staffing levels are likely to be significantly below affordable levels.
“This gives the flexibility to consider workforce mix or recruitment opportunities. However any opportunities must be considered in the light of uncertain future financial settlements.”
As well as grappling with £126 million of cuts since 2010, the Chancellor demanded a further £27 million of savings from the force in June, which it is feared could mean the additional loss of 600 officers over five years.
Police and crime commissioner, Bob Jones, warned colleagues that the surplus could be lost to future budget cuts.
He added: “I would like to commend the work of the service for making sure we are ahead of very challenging targets. There is a small amount of flexibility that may well we wiped out by future settlements.”
But Mr Jones said he was keen to restart recruitment and acknowledged that 85 per cent of all force costs related to staffing.
He added: “I am hoping we can restart recruitment and make it sustainable and a consultation on that will be launched in November.”
Ian Edwards, chairman of the West Midlands branch of the Police Federation, said losses of extra officers should be a concern to the force.
Mr Edwards said: “Policing is not as an enticing careers as it once was.
“There are jobs elsewhere in the private sector and there are disillusioned officers who are managing to find jobs abroad, at other forces and in the private sector.
“There has been much higher levels of stress for officers, higher workloads, an ongoing pay freeze, increases in pension contributions and less opportunity for promotion and movement within the force.
“I do not know about the specific reasons for individual officers that have left, but it should be a worry, especially if it is extrapolated over a number of years.
“Any loss of experience is certainly not something we want to see, but these people are clearly reassessing their career paths
“I suspect the police staff are jumping before they are pushed because redundancy has been on the horizon. The levels of unhappiness and stress that we recorded in a recent survey we commissioned could also be feeding into these losses.
“The fact is that officers are generally unhappier at work and are doing much more work must be taking its toll.
“Whilst it should be commended that there have been moves to bring in special constables and police community support officers, the people really wants to see more warranted officers and that is what I hope we can see more of.”
More than half of West Midlands Police constables surveyed in the Police Federation stress survey earlier this year said they wanted to leave the job.
The independent survey revealed that 51 per cent of officers wanted to quit because they were suffering from emotional exhaustion and burnout.
The biggest gripes were about extra workloads, the cancellation of rest days, and insufficient breaks.
West Midlands Police says it will work with the union to address concerns, but pointed out the survey had involved just 10 per cent of officers.
Last month the force advertised 50 new police community support officer roles and also launched a recruitment drive for volunteer special constables.