MERSEYSIDE police commissioner Jane Kennedy is warning "savage cuts" to the force's budget are taking their toll as official figures show crime has increased across the county for the first time in seven years.

Data released by the Office of National Statistics on Thursday showed overall crime, including fraud, has increased by 2.8%.

Ms Kennedy said: “While the small increase in crime demonstrated by these figures is disappointing, Merseyside Police has made a significant reduction in crimes of all types over many years and continues to deliver an exceptionally high standard of service to people in our region.

“This is the first time in seven years that the overall crime figure has risen and crime on Merseyside remains at a low level compared to previous years.

“However, this is the result of significant investment in crime prevention initiatives and some really successful partnership working between the police and local councils, the NHS, the probation service and other agencies over many years.

"Savage cuts to the police budget and to our crime prevention public sector partners is beginning to have an impact and this cannot be downplayed."

She added: “The increase in the number of sexual offences reported also follows a concerted effort by the Force to increase the reporting of both sexual offences and domestic violence. 

"Encouraging victims to come forward and report crimes is far more important than lowering crime figures and I would take this opportunity to urge anyone who has been a victim of crime to speak out."

Assistant Chief Constable Ian Pilling said: "After seven consecutive years of reductions in levels of overall crime, we are naturally disappointed that there has been a small increase this year.

"Part of that increase has been caused by an increase in the number of shoplifting and retail burglary and robbery offences.

“We are pro-actively working with a range of businesses and offering them solutions to help protect themselves and trace offenders.

"We have also seen an increase in sexual offences, which we believe is largely a result of increased reporting following a number of high-profile cases in the last year.

"The force is committed to tackling the serious and organised criminals who are involved in the supply of illegal drugs on Merseyside and we will be relentless in our efforts to target those involved."

Violence offences rose by 17%, shoplifting by 18% and sexual offences 11%.

Knives were reported in 655 cases, ranging from incidents of attempted murder to robbery.

However, there have been continuing falls in the number of domestic burglaries, vehicle crimes and a 5.1% drop in drugs offences.