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26 January 2017, 16:15
A former Scottish Government minister has said Police Scotland is "in crisis'' as the Auditor General for Scotland revealed the force and its governing body are facing a £200 million budget gap.
The predicted cumulative gap has increased by £12 million since Audit Scotland's critical report last month on the financial position of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
Holyrood's Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee has called for senior figures at the Scottish Government and SPA as well as Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley to explain the "financial mess''.
Auditor General Caroline Gardner told MSPs: "To illustrate the scale of the future financial challenge, I have updated my projections of the potential funding gap facing the SPA and Police Scotland.
"These suggest a cumulative deficit of almost £200 million in real terms by the end of this parliamentary session. I consider this projection to be conservative.''
SNP MSP Alex Neil said: "This is a totally unacceptable performance.
"There's a general lack of confidence in policing in Scotland at the moment. We know that morale is rock bottom amongst the police force.
"I know that the Chief Constable believes that he is #60 million short of the money that he actually needs to do the job that he's been asked to do. So, we've got to give them their say to see if this is all part and parcel of the same problem.
"This strikes me that this is an organisation in crisis in terms of the management of their finances.''
Following the meeting, committee convener Jenny Marra said the rising budget gap was "incredibly worrying''.
She said: "The Audit Committee is calling for the chair and chief executive of the Scottish Police Authority, the Chief Constable and the Scottish Government to come before us to get some clear answers on this financial mess and to find out why no progress is being made despite continual warnings.''
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats accused the government of burying "their heads in the sand'' over the finance problems facing police.
Scottish Labour's justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: "The SNP government must listen to the serious concerns of Audit Scotland, rank-and-file officers, staff, opposition MSPs and now their own backbenchers.''
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross said Mr Neil's comments were a "devastating assessment of the financial mismanagement of our police service'' and called on the Justice Secretary to take action.
He added: "The SNP said that a single police force would use public funds more efficiently. Instead, thanks to its incompetence, we now have an organisation whose finances are seemingly out of control.''
An SPA spokeswoman said: "While we have acknowledged issues around policing's financial performance, the operational performance of the service remains strong.''
She said more finance staff have been brought in and the SPA is working with Police Scotland on a 10-year strategy for ``flexible and sustainable'' policing.