Any government which embarks on a widespread programme of cuts in public spending can expect to face tough opposition from those on the receiving end of the reforms. Such has been the case with the policies introduced in Hong Kong in a bid to achieve a much-needed streamlining of the public service and balancing of the budget. The cuts have hit welfare payments, funding for education and the pay packets of civil servants, among others. Each time, the battle has been hard-fought and controversial. Now, as we report today, certain benefits enjoyed by senior police officers are under threat. It is not surprising that they, too, are expressing outrage. But the officers have also suggested that the force might take industrial action. And this prospect, as they well know, gives rise to serious concerns. The benefits in question affect about 1,100 expatriate and senior local officers. They are enjoyed throughout the civil service. And there is good reason for thinking that at least some of them should be scrapped. The perks include the sea-passage allowance. This absurd throwback to the colonial era allows retired civil servants to sail back to Britain on a luxury cruise ship when their work in Hong Kong is completed. Other benefits facing the axe include allowances for air conditioners, domestic appliances, furniture and trips home for expatriate civil servants. These are also outdated and are difficult to defend. What appears to worry the police officers, however, is that these proposals may only be the tip of the iceberg. Education and housing benefits are likely to be next. And there are even rumours that their pensions may be targeted. These concerns may turn out to be exaggerated, but they are certainly lowering morale within the force, especially as there is a fear that junior officers will also be hit. Care must therefore be taken by the government to ensure the cuts are handled sensitively. There should be discussion with the police in order to explain the need for the measures - and to ease fears concerning how far they might go. The aim is to make the force more, not less, efficient. And lifting morale, which has been fragile for several years, is vital if the police are to keep crime in Hong Kong at the low levels which we have enjoyed for so long. Much importance is placed by the officers on a provision of the Basic Law which states that civil-service conditions must be no less favourable than before the 1997 handover. But a court case fought over civil-service pay has already shown that this does not set their terms in stone. The flexibility allowed by the law may well permit the removal of certain benefits. The police rightly enjoy the confidence and respect of the public. They have a tough job to do and deserve to be supported. In particular, adequate manpower must be provided in order to ensure Hong Kong remains one of the world's safest cities. This should not be compromised by the need to cut costs. The recent spate of crimes in public parks, the rape of two tourists and the activities of triads all serve as reminders of how much we depend on the police. But officers, like any other civil servants, must be realistic and accept that they cannot expect to escape the government's austerity drive. They do have some grounds for claiming to be a special case. They are forbidden from forming a trade union, or going on strike. However, the police should think very carefully before resorting to alternative forms of industrial action. It might prove to be counter-productive. Working to rule would risk limiting the ability of the police to fight crime. It is unlikely to be well received by the public and may cost the force the sympathy and support it currently enjoys.