Continued funding cuts will leave the police unable to meet public expectations, a senior officer warned after it was revealed that officer numbers had sunk to their lowest level for 14 years.

Home Office statistics showed there were 127,075 officers across the 43 forces covering England and Wales, down 1,295 in a year and around 17,000 fewer than in 2010.

All but 14 forces shed posts over the 12 months.

Policing Minister Mike Penning said falling crime levels showed forces were able to absorb funding reductions without harming front-line performance.

But Sussex chief constable Giles York warned that while numbers were not the only measure, the present rate of squeeze on budgets was unsustainable.

"We are concerned that if budget cuts continue in the current trend there will be a point in the future when forces are unable to deliver the effective and efficient service that the public expects," he said.

Mr York, who is the n ational policing lead on workforce development, went on: "Each force comes to these financial challenges from a different starting point; some will be hit harder and feel the impact earlier than others."

Chief constables had planned carefully to manage the impact of budget cuts, but feared the consequences for law and order of public spending being pared back still further as governments seek to clear the national deficit.

"With further austerity to come the challenge to the police service continues and the reduction in officers and staff may well be greater in the next few years.

"Our effectiveness can't be solely measured on police numbers. It is the service we deliver that matters to the public.

"We highly value the hard work of our officers and staff who have risen to the challenge of significant financial restraints by continuing to reduce crime, year on year. There has not been a decrease in the demand on the police service, only a change in its nature with an unprecedented rise in reports of child abuse, cyber-crime and public protection issues."

Police Federation of England and Wales chairman Steve White said the cuts were clearly " doing real harm to the ability of the service to protect the public.

"We hear that crime is falling but this only measures a snapshot of police activity. What we do not hear about is the extreme pressure these Government cuts are placing on officers' ability to prevent terrorist attacks, manage sex offenders in the community, protect children from sexual exploitation and return missing persons to their families among other key issues.

"Officers are at breaking point. You cannot create a better police service by imposing swingeing cuts on its budgets - all that will achieve is to cut the service officers are able to give the public."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "David Cameron and Theresa May promised to protect front-line policing - but today's figures show that promise lies in tatters.

"There are now 16,701 fewer police officers protecting our streets and communities than in 2010.

"Neighbourhood policing has been badly hit, 999 waits have gone up, and far fewer criminals are being prosecuted and convicted.

"Yet the Tories want to go even further even though violent crime is up, more complex crimes including child abuse, rape and domestic violence are being reported, terror threats remain, and there is a massive increase in online crime."

Labour would provide cash to prevent the planned loss of another 1,000 officers next year, she said, by scrapping elected police and crime commissioners, making forces work together on procurement and ending a subsidy for gun licences.

Mr Penning said: "Police reform is working and statistics published last week show that crime has fallen by more than a fifth under this Government.

"Forces are successfully meeting the challenge of balancing their books while protecting the front line and delivering reductions in crime.

"What matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are.

"HMIC has made clear that there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels, the visibility of the police in the community and the quality of service provided.

"Decisions on the size and composition of a police force's workforce are for individual chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)."