FINANCE chiefs have clawed back a six-figure budget overspend at Cumbria Police by raiding its reserves.

In December, officials warned that its 2018-19 revenue budget could tip £646,000 into the red by the end of the financial year in March 2019.

But since then, the overspend has been cut back to just £217,000 by using £470,000 of reserves towards balancing the books.

The overspend is due to Cumbria Police paying out more wages than expected in 2018-20 after a recruitment drive to take on more officers.

Michelle Bellis, deputy chief finance officer for the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner, spelled out the figures at a meeting with Peter McCall, the county’s police and crime commissioner.

She said: “The overspend arises critically as a conscious decision to bring forward the recruitment of an extra 25 police officers. That was pledged as part of the precept increase last year. It’s also due to the decision to operate some 20 officers over the establishment figure to counterbalance a fall in PCSO numbers. We saw a number of them leave to join the regular police.”

It means the police revenue budget ended the year with spending of £115.397m – compared to a budget of £115.180 million. It is equivalent to a net overspend of £217,000.

Mr McCall told the public accountability conference at police headquarters, Penrith: “What appears as an overspend to the public actually is merely a technical issue. Overall we balanced the budget.”

“I make absolutely no apologies that we brought in those extra officers early. It was absolutely the right thing to do.

“From the 1st April 2018, the public was paying extra for the police and therefore it’s absolutely right they should see that extra effect as soon as possible.”

Roger Marshall, joint chief finance officer, praised the force’s budget forecasts as “very accurate” and added that potential overspends had been “signalled” very early so action could be taken to balance the books.

Mr Marshall told the meeting: “Overall, it represents a very minor overspend. It’s 0.19 percent of our budget, which is not a very large overspend for the year at all against a budget of £115 million.”