Police Not Off Budget Cuts Hook, says Justice Sec

The Justice Secretary has said there is still scope for budget cuts at Police Scotland despite warnings from within his own party that "the pips are beginning to squeak''.

Michael Matheson confirmed that the additional £17.6 million he provided for front line policing, including counter-terrorism, and #55 million for reform in the next financial year does not let Police Scotland ``off the hook'' in its efficiency drive.

Police Scotland is still struggling to balance its books by the end of this financial year, with discussions ongoing in private about how to meet its £25 million shortfall.

But Mr Matheson said ``there is still scope for efficiencies to be found'' at Police Scotland, in evidence to Holyrood's Justice Committee.

SNP MSP Gil Paterson said: ``Does the additional funding for the SPA (Scottish Police Authority) indicate a departure from previous efficiency savings, or will the services still be charged with trying to look at how they will save? Are they off the hook in that regard?''

Mr Matheson said: "There is still a requirement to make further savings and efficiencies within the organisation.

"This isn't a departure from recognising that they need to continue to achieve these savings effectively, but what it does do is provide them with the level of resource which I believe will assist them to continue to take forward the work that they are undertaking.

"For example, the additional challenges which they face around matters relating to counter-terrorism, it will assist them in making some of these additional demands.''

Mr Paterson said: "We have heard that the pips are beginning to squeak. Is there an expectation from the Government that this can be achieved?''

Mr Matheson said: "We have heard from the evidence already that there is still scope for efficiencies to be found.

"There is no doubt that when you bring together eight legacy forces that there are always going to be significant areas of overlap where efficiencies can be gained, and I don't think they have all been realised as yet.

"There are still areas of bureaucracy which I think could be alleviated, and there are areas where further gains can be maintained.''

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: "The reform fund was supposed to end at the end of this year, so the £55 million that you have had to find for the forthcoming year of reform is a recognition that the Government has miscalculated the level of savings that the reforms could achieve in that timescale. Is that correct?''

Mr Matheson said: "No, what we have agreed is that we believe we are going through the major consolidation part of reform of Police Scotland.

"In order to support the next phase of that, the Deputy First Minister has agreed that we should provide them with a further budget for funding in order to allow them to continue some areas of reform.''

Mr Matheson also once again demanded an explanation from the UK Government about why Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service face an annual VAT bill totalling £35 million, when other blue light services and similar national organisations elsewhere in the UK are exempt.

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