A ROW has erupted over policing numbers in south Cumbria with the Conservative party being accused of hiding the full picture.

A former serving policeman has charged the Furness Conservatives with using selective arithmetic to give a misleading impression of the number of police officers in the county force.

Ulverston Labour party councillor, Dave Webster, who is a former mayor of the town, said local Tories - and Furness MP Simon Fell - should 'come clean with voters' about the figures.

Furness and South Lakeland Conservatives claimed on the group’s Facebook page that Cumbria Constabulary had been boosted by 53 new officers.

But Cllr Webster said 'smoke and mirrors' were being deployed to hide the full picture.

Cllr Webster, who served with Cumbria Police from 1979 until his retirement in 2009, said: “I see that Cllr James Airey along with Furness MP and Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall are all boasting about the increase of 53 police officers to the Cumbria force this year.

“What they are not saying is that the force has lost 147 officers since 2010, so reducing police officer numbers from 1,238 to 1,091 in 2019.

“If they were saying that they had replaced those lost officers and these new 53 were an increase to the force’s number – then I would be the first to congratulate the police and crime commissioner on reversing the cuts to the force.

“But it’s not. It’s the Conservative party media team being selective with the figures.

“I served with Cumbria Police from 1979 until 2009 and saw the reduction in front line policing first-hand.

“The reduction was not only due to cuts, but with the introduction of specialist departments. The officers had to come from somewhere, so front-line policing was reduced to fill these vacancies.

“So whenever you hear a Conservative saying the Tories are for law and order and we have increased the police numbers – please remember that all they are really doing is replacing the officers that their cuts have caused.

“It’s time these local Tories – and MP Simon Fell – came clean with the tax-paying public.”

Responding to the comments, James Airey said: “Clearly, when we came into power in 2010 we had to balance the books and services had to take a hit.

"I'm pleased with the real terms increase in police numbers. We are going to be building on this in the force year on year.

"We're certainly going in the right direction whichever way you look at it. And I think this a very positive thing both for Cumbria and for front-line policing.

Mr Fell responded to Cllr Webster's comments by saying: “We pledged to recruit 20,000 more police officers nationally if elected and since 2019 have been making good progress on doing just that.

“There are 53 more police in Cumbria since we made that pledge with more still to come. If Cllr Webster is having difficulty with basic maths, then I can lend him one of my daughter’s workbooks.”