The removal of funding for police visits to schools in Wales will leave children vulnerable to criminal exploitation, it's been claimed.

The Welsh Government announced last week that it would be axing its contribution to the School Beat Cymru scheme, which sees officers deliver lessons on substance abuse, safety, safeguarding and behaviour.

The devolved government said stopping funding for the Wales Police Schools Programme would result in an annual saving of £2m from April and allow it to prioritise frontline services.

However, former North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has criticised the move, claiming it could leave youngsters at risk of being recruited into so-called "county lines" drugs gangs.

He said: “I am very disappointed by the Welsh Government’s decision to stop the Welsh Police School’s Programme after so many successful years.

“The decision goes against both the Welsh Government’s and Welsh policing’s progressive and preventative ethos to intervene early to prevent children and young people being drawn into criminality especially county lines.

“With this poorly thought through decision more children will be exposed to county lines and other forms of criminal exploitation.

“For £2 million the benefits of this programme far outweighs its cost.

“Hopefully the police and crime commissioners will have sufficient capacity in their budgets to fund this programme going forward.”

Current North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin has pledged to keep funding the scheme within the region until July.

However, he said a new funding model would need to be found to keep it going in the long term.

He said: “As police and crime commissioner I have seen at first hand the positive work undertaken by School Beat across North Wales and the valuable role it has in encouraging children and young people to come forward to the police with any concerns they have, and in familiarising them with how policing and the criminal justice system works.

“I understand and appreciate the budgetary constraints that Welsh Government is operating under – which is an issue affecting the whole of the public sector – as well as the concerns that staff and the public have around the future of the programme.

“As such, although funding for School Beat from Welsh Government will end, it is important to reassure children, parents and education providers that, thanks to money from police and crime commissioners and the force, the programme will continue to the end of the academic year.

“The plan is then that School Beat will evolve and adapt into a service with a more sustainable funding model, while still delivering an excellent outcome for all who have a stake in the programme.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said the decision to remove funding for the scheme had been taken in light of the NHS and other frontline services facing "the toughest financial pressures in recent history".

They said: “We have had to take very difficult decisions about the Welsh Government’s commitments and priorities, with a focus on protecting front-line services and saving lives.

“In spite of the challenging budget, we have continued to protect our front-line substance misuse funding at £67m.

“That includes increased ring-fenced allocations for children and young people to £6.25m.

“As a result, we have decided to end the Welsh Government’s contribution to the Wales Police Schools Programme, which currently comes from the substance misuse budget.”

They added: “The landscape around wellbeing for learners on a range of important issues has changed significantly since the introduction of the programme; particularly with the introduction of the new curriculum.

“We have worked, and are continuing to work, closely with the police on the impact of the funding changes.”