FEARS that £45million will be cut from the police budget in Essex are “mere speculation”, a Government minister has claimed.

Essex Police Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle warned hundreds of police officers could be cut if the Government’s austerity measures go ahead as planned.

He estimated the force would have to save £45million from its annual £267million budget by 2015.

But policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert said: “At this point, any suggestion about the size of cuts is mere speculation.

“We will not know how much money will be available for policing until the spending review reports back in October.

“The Government’s first priority is to tackle the deficit and the police must make their share of the savings.

“We will do everything we can to cut red tape and ensure resources are used more efficiently to protect frontline services.”

Mr Barker-McCardle estimated the size of the savings following an announcement by Chancellor George Osborne in his emergency budget in June.

The Chancellor said as part of the austerity plans, the 43 police forces in England and Wales could lose up to a quarter of their Government police grant by 2015.

Mr Barker-McCardle said the cuts would give the force an opportunity to “design a new blueprint” for policing in Essex. But he added cutting bureaucracy and “organisational tinkering” alone would not be enough to save the force £45million and that jobs would have to go. There are currently 3,600 police officers, 2,340 police staff and 400 police community support officers in the county.

The chief constable said staff cuts would be in the “high hundreds”, and would include both police staff and police officers, but he would look to keep as many officers in frontline services as possible.

The Government’s spending review will be announced on October 20.