STREET wardens will be taking a tough stance on crime and anti-social behaviour in a shake-up of the service on Teesside.

The number of council wardens in Stockton is to be reduced from 32 to 22 in April of next year, but they will have greater powers to help them assist police in the fight against underage drinking, violence and street offences.

Stockton Borough Council, cabinet members voted to change the way the team works when the current contract ends next year.

That means some wardens will be retained, while others will be deployed elsewhere in the council.

However, some will not have their contracts renewed.

The council's head of community protection, Mike Batty, said funding for the present service was due to run out in April, so the council had taken the opportunity to review its success.

He said many of the council's wardens had already been given extra powers by the police, including permission to confiscate alcohol and tobacco from underage people or within restricted areas, and remove abandoned cars.

But he said the public had frequently said they wished wardens to be more effective.

Mr Batty said: "There would be fewer bodies, but it would be a case of using those expanded powers to the full.

"At the moment, we are very much operating within a framework where community wardens would not normally take the enforcement action themselves.

"Our new service will mean fewer foot patrols, but there will be more delivery of sanctions. There will be a harder stance on crime."

The wardens will not patrol specific patches, as at present, but cover wider areas.

However, planned extra police community support officers, earmarked for 2007/8, will help keep overall numbers the same.

The wardens will be given additional training and formal uniforms and will be paid more, in line with their more professional status.

The shake-up has angered some wardens, who fear they may lose their jobs.

One Stockton warden, who did not wish to be named, said: "Wardens are not going to be there to cover the communities and help people such as the elderly if the council goes ahead with this.

"They will be there purely for enforcement purposes, but what does that mean for Care In The Community."

Mr Batty said talks were ongoing with the wardens and trade unions to discuss the new service.