Warning About Police Cuts In Scotland

The Scottish Government would be foolish to continue with its programme of police cuts in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, a top police officers' representative has warned.

The Scottish Government would be foolish to continue with its programme of police cuts in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, a top police officers' representative has warned.

Police Scotland is struggling to meet the police reform savings target of £1.1 billion demanded by the SNP administration, and is facing a spiralling £25 million shortfall this year.

Calum Steele, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, told the Press Association that ``the first duty of government is to protect its citizens'' and the SNP must recognise the additional pressures the heightened terror threat has placed on the force.

Police Scotland is understood to be in close contact with the Scottish Government about the potential implications of the Paris incident.

The Scottish Government said it has maintained officer numbers and invested £73 million in a serious incident campus at Gartcosh, in "stark contrast'' to the predicted 15,000 officer cuts in England and Wales.

But opposition parties said they cannot stand by while Police Scotland struggles to make cuts at a time of heightened threat.

Mr Steele said: "When Police Scotland was created, the expectation to save £1.1 billion in its first 10 years was placed upon it.

"That was set against a normal policing background.

"Since then the terror threat and the threat level nationally has increased to its highest level, and that has resulted in additional pressures to the budget.

"The first duty of government is to protect its citizens, and that cannot be done if it cuts investment in policing.

"Clearly, events in Paris have caused police services to reassess their capabilities all over the world.

"It would be foolish for any government to expect policing to continue to cut at this time of heightened threat.''

Options to close the budget gap are currently being discussed behind closed doors by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), amid concerns that they would be unpalatable and "politically unacceptable''.

Police Scotland is prevented from cutting officer numbers below 17,234 - 1,000 more than the SNP inherited.

Planned police staff redundancies have been shelved following the damning HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report into police call handling following the death of two people on the M9.

Plans to sell off police buildings are dependent on finding buyers, and until they are sold they remain a drain on police resources in repair and maintenance costs.

Meanwhile, the heightened terror threat has emphasised the need to maintain firearms, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear trained officers and equipment which must be regularly replaced.

Finance Secretary John Swinney yesterday repeated his plea to the Treasury to make Police Scotland exempt from VAT - as the old eight forces were. This costs the force #30 million a year - more than enough to close the current budget gap.

He also warned the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, a collaboration to provide inter-operable communications across the emergency services, could result in an additional #50 million VAT cost to the Scottish public sector which other blue light services in the UK will not have to pay.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "This government has delivered 1,000 additional officers since 2007, in stark contrast to the situation in England and Wales, where police numbers are expected to fall by around 15,000 over the UK Government's Comprehensive Spending Review period.

"One of the key benefits of police reform is the creation of the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh, funded by #73 million of Scottish Government money, has brought together a range of capabilities to respond to threats and serious incidents.

Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: "Scottish Labour at no time set a definitive figure on savings in the first 10 years of a reformed service. It was impossible to gauge in the sense of a business plan.

"It was the chief constable and the SPA that set the target to please the SNP Government demands; it's now up to them to tell us what they intend to do.''

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: "Calum Steele's points must be taken on board.

"The First Minister's overall budget went up by #661 million from last year to this but over the same time period she cut funding for policing by £6 million.

"This has resulted in vital support staff, which are necessary for the rank and file police officers to do their job, being laid off.

"So officers are now 'backfilling' these administrative posts and being put in an untenable position of doing a job they didn't sign up for and weren't trained to do.

"The Scottish Government can no longer take a 'hands off' approach. It must clearly, as a matter of urgency, sort this out now.''

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The savings which the SNP promised would follow the centralisation of Scotland's police have simply not materialised. The force is already facing a #25 million overspend this year. Calum Steele is right to raise this issue.

"SNP ministers boast about police numbers but we know that many officers are being forced into back offices to make up shortfalls in other areas.

"The pressure that Police Scotland is facing is a direct consequence of their decision to centralise police services.''

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