The government has pledged to fight retail crime and support store workers while at the same time slashing police budgets. Can it do both?

With police funding due to be cut as part of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review, retailers have every reason to question whether their communities will be vulnerable in the future.

What the government is pledging
- To get police officers back on the streets rather than filling out paperwork 
- Make forces answerable to local communities 
- Review penalties for anti-social behaviour 
- Community-appointed police and crime commissioners
The cuts appear to be an early backtrack on the tough pledges made on crime this summer. In July, Home Secretary Theresa May pledged that police officers would return to the streets rather than spend time filling out paperwork; that anti-social behaviour would be recognised as a "serious crime"; and that communities would be able to appoint and, more importantly, remove local police and crime commissioners for poor performance.

These pledges were reiterated at last week's Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) Crime Prevention Forum by the Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire, who also insisted that retail crime really did matter to the government. "We don't regard shop crime as victimless," he says. "It is unacceptable that shopworkers are victims of attack, abuse and, in the most extreme cases, loss of life. These are the risks they are facing while running a business and serving the community."

So far, so tough, but following last week's revelation that police budgets would be cut by 20% over the next five years, there are clear doubts about whether the government will deliver.

What we want
- Similar penalties for crimes against shopworkers to those for crimes against other public servants such as nurses
- A greater commitment to investigate so-called 'low-level' store crime to ensure that it doesn't escalate 
- A more visible police presence to deter criminals and reassure shopworkers 
- An informed definition of retail crime to ensure that it is taken seriously.
Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever believes that a cut in budgets will inevitably lead to a reduction in police officer numbers, but Brokenshire maintains that less money won't necessarily equate to more crime. "Finances are going to be under pressure, but we can still be effective on the front line," he says. "We'll be looking to get rid of red tape, and the police should spend more time on the streets to detect and deter crime. We also want to make the police more accountable to the public by getting rid of bean counters and by giving power to the people and businesses by allowing them to appoint police and crime commissioners."

ACS chief executive James Lowman says that he would be very surprised if frontline efficiency didn't suffer in the wake of these cuts. "The greater the cost pressures facing the police, the less their ability to respond quickly to incidents, to engage on crime prevention and partnership working, and to take cases through the courts rather than going for the quickest and simplest penalty for a crime," he says. "The significant cuts are a further worrying signal for our hope that retail crimes are taken more seriously not less by the justice system."

One area of the force that may suffer is Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). The Minister maintains that it will be down to communities themselves to decide whether or not they have the resources to fund PCSOs. While retailers always prefer an official police presence, at the moment PCSOs are often the only regular contact that a retailer has with his local force.

So will there be a greater police presence on the streets, or will stores become more isolated as a result of the cuts? The new government still has many questions left to answer.