POLICE stations could be shut and officers moved into shops in communities across Hampshire as the force battles to make savings of up to £8m over the next 12 months.

County force chiefs are considering closing and selling off some existing out-of-the-way police stations and move officers into shop fronts in more centralised locations.

They have refused to say which police stations are under threat, but confirm it would only be those where a more central station would be of greater benefit to the local population and where substantial savings could be made by selling off the land.

The scheme is one of a number of options being looked at by the force as it struggles to overcome a £20m black hole in its finances over the next two years.

Yesterday the Daily Echo told how up to 55 police officers could also be put back on frontline duties by the "civilianisation" of certain aspects of policing, such as getting in professional typists to take over the production of time-consuming reports.

Police chiefs hope to raise this number to 100. They want to get other officers back to frontline duties by making changes such as removing the force's 19 dedicated schools liaison officers.

News of the savings drive came yesterday as Hampshire Consta-bulary announced its council tax demands for the coming year - up just under five per cent on last year to £125.37 for an average Band D property.

Adrian Collett, chairman of Hampshire Constabulary's finance committee, said: "We need to make these savings so we can continue to offer the level of services were currently provide and to keep Hampshire safe and secure. When we talk about civilianisation, what we are saying is that having a police officer in a station typing away with two fingers is a very inefficient and expensive way for reports to get written.

"But a professional typist costs less than a police officer and can do the typing work far quicker - that doesn't mean, however, that we will be laying off officers. On the contrary, by doing this we will get officers back on the streets policing, which is what they are there for."

However he also said it was up to the Government to provide police with more money, as he did not feel there were too many further savings that the force could make without cutting services.

He added: "The Government needs to think hard about what they are asking police forces to do and how that will be funded.

"We have looked into every corner of our work to make savings and it will be hard to find anymore with affecting services."

Stephen Price, chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said he was concerned that the latest Government settlement did not give the force the resources it needed to do what was being asked of it, and called the budget the best of a very difficult situation.

As for the police stations in shops, he said: "No specific station names have been mentioned to me, and to be honest it's too early yet to say whether it would work or not - there simply isn't any evidence to say it's a good idea or a bad idea.''