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18 December 2015, 12:17 | Updated: 18 December 2015, 12:22
Policing in Scotland could face a funding gap of almost £85 million by 2018/19, according to the Auditor General.
The warning came in the annual audit of the Scottish Police Authority's (SPA's) accounts for 2014/15.
The Audit Scotland report also says incomplete records and poor financial management delayed the audit of the SPA's accounts while "substantial corrections'' were needed before completion.
The body, set up to hold Police Scotland to account, oversaw expenditure of about #1.76 billion in 2014/15 while, together with the police force, is also responsible for fixed assets valued at more than #550 million.
The SPA is forecasting an overspend for 2015/16 of £22.3 million.
In the absence of a long-term strategy to demonstrate the financial sustainability of policing for the next decade, Audit Scotland has estimated the potential funding gap to 2020/21 using current information.
Based on a 1% real-terms budget increase every year from 2016/17 to 2020/21, it has estimated a cumulative funding gap of £84.6 million by 2018/19.
Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: "Police Scotland is one of our largest and most important public bodies.
"I first reported on the need for a long-term financial strategy for the service in November 2013. What was once important has now become critical, given the scale of the challenges ahead.
"The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland must collectively provide stronger leadership in strategic and operational financial management.
"This is essential if they are to deliver effective modern policing for the public and ensure their long-term financial sustainability.''