THE 'bobby on the beat' is a rare sight for many, according to a new survey.

Figures released today reveal almost half of people across England and Wales have not seen a uniformed officer or police community support officer on foot in the past year.

Top officers at Dorset Police have recently reaffirmed their commitment to neighbourhood policing. However, changes in the county are planned, with 29 PCSOs to become accredited as investigators.

The new role will mean the officers will interview victims of crime.

'Borderless policing' - which could see more officers sent to trouble hotspots at peak times - is also set to be introduced.

For example, officers usually based in more rural areas may be tasked to cover town centres during night-times as part of a programme of "pooling resources".

Chief Superintendent Colin Searle, head of territorial policing for Dorset Police, told the Daily Echo earlier this month there is a "full and total commitment to continuing neighbourhood policing".

"Neighbourhood policing teams are very focused around partnership approach - we are always looking to engage at local level with key partners," he said.

"However, there is an increase in demand, and that is difficult for us."

in early December, Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said officers may be forced to give up investigating low-level offences due to a lack of finances.

Speaking after he was asked whether Dorset Police may, like the Met Police, stop investigating shoplifting and burglary to meet the latest round of funding cuts, Mr Underhill said: "We are not in that place yet. If the financial settlement continues to be flat cash and the merger doesn’t happen, Dorset could be in the same situation as other forces.

“It needs to be examined, but we could be forced to look at what other forces have been forced to do.”

The Ipsos MORI survey of 12,662 people - which was carried out for HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to gauge perceptions of crime, safety and local policing - revealed four-fifths of participants felt it was important to have a regular uniformed police presence.

However, just 17 per cent believed they had this in their area.

The proportion who said they had not seen a uniformed officer in their area was 44 per cent this year, up from 41 per cent in 2016 and 36 per cent in 2015.

The inspectorate has previously raised concerns over the impacts of an "erosion" of neighbourhood policing.

Elsewhere, the research found a marked increase in confidence in the police to provide protection during a terrorist attack.

More than half - 55 per cent - said they would be "very" or "fairly" confident in police dealing with such an incident, compared with 46 per cent in 2016.