IN June, Durham Police's chief constable, Jon Stoddart, travelled to London to beg the Government for extra money.

Mr Stoddart said his force would face serious financial difficulties in the next few years if it did not receive help from the Government.

He said Durham Police had been penalised for its past good financial management and said the force would be £8m in the red in two years.

Today, it emerges that the situation is more serious.

Mr Stoddart told The Northern Echo last night that unless the Home Office agreed to give the force more money, he would have to shed up to 300 police officers.

But how can this happen to a force that is consistently praised for its low crime rates and prudent financial management?

It was only two days ago that Durham was praised as mostly excellent or good in the Government's police performance assessment.

According to the force, the major cause of its financial crisis is an unfair funding formula.

Durham Police has an annual budget of more than £105m, but has made efficiency savings of £17m in the past few years.

In June, Mr Stoddart said that a few years ago, some police authorities had dramatically increased precepts, but Durham had not.

Since then, the rise in council tax has been capped at an increase of five per cent.

This means those authorities that had higher precepts a few years ago receive a bigger increase in real terms, while those such as Durham, which has the second-lowest council tax precept in the country, get a comparatively small increase.

In June, Mr Stoddart said: "We are falling further and further behind everyone else."

However, despite his trip to London, the Government did not give Durham extra money.

On top of that, when Government plans to merge police forces across the country collapsed, Durham Police said it was £350,000 out of pocket.

It has been preparing to merge with Northumbria and Cleveland police but, in July, the plans fell through.

Durham Police asked the Home Office for a refund but, to date, has not received any money.

The Home Office said that, on a like-for-like basis, Government grant and spending on the police will have increased by 56 per cent, or almost £4bn, between 2000-1 (£7.072m) and 2007-8 (£11.047m).

Last night, Mr Stoddart said "a sensible and considered" plan had been drawn up to meet the financial challenge.

He said any reduction in front-line officers would be kept to a minimum, and he has promised more special constables and police community support officers.

Mr Stoddart said other forces in the country were facing similar financial problems. Councillor Anne Wright, chairwoman of Dur-ham Police Authority said: "We have been making the Government aware of this for some time, alerting them to the problems on the horizons.

"The Government needs to do something about this now.

"We need £10.5m over three years, £6m next year, or these cuts will go ahead."

North Durham MP Kevan Jones said that while the merger plans were being discussed, the issue of funding was temporarily forgotten.

He said: "The Government kicked this into the long grass while it was talking about mergers, but now it needs to sort this out as soon as possible."

Mr Stoddart said: "Representatives of the police authority, the Police Federation and the trade unions are key players in this process, and will continue to be involved at every key stage."

Senior managers will meet to discuss detailed proposals at the end of next month.