Scale of local police cuts in Scotland revealed

Hundreds of police officers have been cut from divisions across Scotland, sparking warnings that the “bond” with local communities will be lost.

Nov 7, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Figures have revealed a postcode lottery in policing strength, with one area losing 14 per cent of its officers in little over three years.

Amid retirements and a recruitment freeze, concerns have been raised that the cuts are putting public safety and officers themselves at risk, piling pressure on Scottish government ministers ahead of next month’s budget announcement.

The findings come after one of the toughest weekends of the year for local officers, with fireworks and petrol bombs being thrown at police in Edinburgh, and disturbances in Glasgow and Dundee.

The latest national quarterly strength statistics are due to be published today (November 7), but analysis of the most recent data by justice and social affairs publication 1919 Magazine has highlighted the regional variations.

As of June 30 this year, Scotland had 16,600 full-time equivalent officers, which included 12,193 assigned to one of Police Scotland’s 13 local divisions.

That was a fall of 575 – or 4.5 per cent – from 12,768 in March 2020, when numbers peaked in the era of the single force.

Dumfries and Galloway’s V division has been worst hit, falling from 406 in 2020 down to 349 at the most recent count, a drop of 14 per cent.

In the northeast, A division was down eight per cent, Tayside (D division) fell 7.2 per cent, and officer numbers in Forth Valley (C division) slumped by 6.6 per cent.

Some areas have, however, been spared significant reductions, including Glasgow’s G division (2.5 per cent down) and K division, which covers Renfrewshire and Inverclyde (down two per cent).

No area recorded an increase, although figures remained static in the Highlands and Islands (N division).

Scottish Police Federation general secretary David Kennedy said: “It damages the bond with communities.

“Community officers go to events, get to know children, the parents, and they get to know the criminals.

“This all makes a positive difference, but when you take it away the barriers come up and rather than policing by consent, it becomes a force rather than a service.

“For the officers themselves, the eradication of the frontline means it’s a struggle for them to get their annual leave and go to the events in the community that are so important.

“We’re not a pro-active service any more, it’s just reactive, and that makes a difference in the longer term.”

Scottish Conservative MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, Finlay Carson, told 1919 Magazine: “Rural communities like the one I represent have borne the brunt of savage SNP cuts to our police force year after year.

“The SNP’s centralisation of the Scottish police force has resulted in fewer officers patrolling our communities.

“I have even received correspondence from officers themselves voicing deep concerns over manpower numbers.

“It is truly shocking that in just a few years the number of serving officers in Dumfries and Galloway is down by almost a sixth.”

On top of the division numbers, 2,708 officers are classed as ‘region resources’ in the north, east and west, which includes those working in the specialist crime division or road policing units.

This number has fallen from 3,038 in March 2020 – down 10.9 per cent.

The overall force strength also includes officers considered to be ‘national resource’, such as the mounted, intelligence, and football co-ordination units. This rose from 1,578 up to 1,697 in June.

Police Scotland has said the current recruitment freeze, coupled with a pause on training, will “free-up training staff to support frontline colleagues by performing operational duties over Christmas and New Year”.

New Chief Constable Jo Farrell has also insisted: “Despite the funding pressures we’re facing, communities should be reassured that we are doing everything possible to direct resources to areas which encounter the greatest demand, and which carry the greatest risk, and that we continue to effectively reduce harm and protect the vulnerable.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said the administration has invested more than £11.6 billion since the creation of the single force in 2013.

“Police Scotland is a vital service which is why, despite difficult financial circumstances due to UK Government austerity, we have increased police funding year-on-year since 2016/17, with £1.45 billion being invested this year,” they said.

“There are over 350 more officers than in 2007 and around 1,480 new recruits have joined Police Scotland since the beginning of 2022.

“Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales and, following the agreed pay deal of 12 per cent over two years, our officers continue to be the best paid at all levels.”

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