THE spending plans for Cleveland Police have been given unanimous backing but finance chiefs warned there is still plenty of work to do.

All 17 members of the police authority gave their approval to the force's £115m budget and five percent precept increase, as it attempts to steady its financial footing over the next three years.

Authority chairman Ted Cox said it was not all doom and gloom after the force tackled last year's financial crisis with stringent cost cutting. The force was plunged into chaos when a £7.3m deficit was discovered in the budget plans for 2004/05.

Mr Cox said: "I don't think it is a picture of unrelenting gloom. We are not out of the woods by any measure. It's dark but it's not midnight yet." Chief Constable Sean Price outlined the progress in the force's finances following 12 months of belt tightening at yesterday's police authority meeting at the Education Centre, Norton, Stockton.

"This has been a difficult year for us but we have absolute commitment within the executive and authority to put the force on a sound financial footing," he said. "We know there is no room for complacency. This budget is the first of three years that is about restructuring and reconfiguring Cleveland Police."

The additional five percent on the Council Tax precept bill will raise nearly £24m of the force's £115m annual running costs, with the other £91m coming in Home Office grants.

The proposed increase will put an additional £6.08 on the average Band D property making the annual contribution for police service rise by 13p a week in that bracket.

Magistrate member Alf Illingworth was concerned the enforced budgetary cuts could impact on the performance of frontline officers.

He said: "I see the future being quite difficult. We have already made savings of £6m over three years and another £2m when the government hand out is stopped.

"We are going for a no-net-growth in the future, there is no chance to increase the number of police or community support officer staff."

Authority member and Middlesbrough councillor, Barry Coppinger, said: "There is no reason why we can't rise to this challenge. The prime objective is to reduce crime and disorder and that's happening."