Police Scotland set to axe 750 officers to balance books

Police Scotland faces losing 750 officers to balance its books as current workforce numbers are not sustainable within the force budget, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has warned.

Aug 22, 2019
By Tony Thompson
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone

Speaking at a board meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on Wednesday (August 21), the Mr Livingstone said: “Brexit and a number of other events will mean that the next 18 to 24 months will be operationally challenging to say the least.

“Bluntly, our financial plans for this year and next, based on projected funding allocation and excluding the completely unforeseen demands of the consequences of Brexit, mean that to eliminate our deficit by March 2021 we would require to reduce officer numbers to less than 16,500, while also taking any future finding reductions into account.”

Police Scotland had 17,259 full-time equivalent officers as of the end of June. It has retained an extra 400 officers – over planned numbers – for Brexit-related operations and secured £17 million of Scottish government funding to cover this. However, Police Scotland is also facing the challenge of a global climate change summit in Glasgow next year and potentially a general election and another referendum.

The budget plan for 2019/20 includes reducing officer numbers to 16,834, excluding the 400 Brexit officers, to cut the deficit.

Mr Livingstone said “significant progress” was being made to improve efficiency and save money, but he warned that the three-year financial plan agreed by the SPA last year requires a further reduction of 350 officers next year to be on course to eliminate the deficit by the end of 2020/21.

He told the SPA: “The truth is, our current workforce numbers are not sustainable against the allocated budget we have. I identify three basic options for policing in Scotland going forward. We either maintain the workforce with no increase in funding, but clearly an increasing deficit that will not give us the sustainable, stable base that we seek. We reduce the workforce to eliminate the deficit, which would be a challenge given the significant operational demands that we face in the short to medium term. Or we are successful in securing additional funding.”

Following Mr Livingstone’s evidence, SPA chair Susan Deacon made a motion for urgent talks between the board, Police Scotland and the Scottish government to discuss potential funding.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “Ministers have been clear that any potential future reductions in officer numbers must be offset by demonstrable increases in operational capacity, through service transformation, and we asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to work with the SPA and Police Scotland to ensure rigorous monitoring of this and of the Policing 2026 programme, including workforce numbers assurance.”

They added: “Annual funding for Police Scotland is now more than £1.2 billion. While the detailed balance of officers, specialists and other police staff is a matter for the chief constable, officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly above 2007 levels – in contrast to a drop of almost 19,000 officers in England and Wales.”

The possible cuts come at a time when Police Scotland officers find themselves facing significantly higher levels of violence. Figures released this month show assaults on officers had hit a five-year high with more than 1,600 attacked in just three months. The number of assaults on officers between April and June 2019 was ten per cent higher than during the same period last year.

Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said officers were regularly being targeted by armed individuals.

“These figures simply tell us what police officers have known for some time – that is that instances and levels of violence they face is increasing and doing so exponentially,” he said. “As more police officers are assaulted, the levels of the injuries they sustain are also increasing in severity.”

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor added: “Our officers find themselves dealing with dangerous situations on a daily basis to protect the people and communities we serve and are trained to a high level to deal with violent and confrontational situations. But being assaulted is not simply part of the job.

“Police Scotland has a legal and a moral duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our people. We are considering new ways, including taking learning from elsewhere in the UK, to ensure we provide the best support to our people.”

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