Chris Marshall: 2015 challenge for Police Scotland

Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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POLICE Scotland has dealt ably with 2014’s tasks but there is much work ahead, writes Chris Marshall

The past 12 months have been fraught with challenges for Scotland’s nascent police force.

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From the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup to the independence referendum and major investigations such as the Mikaeel Kular case, Police Scotland acquitted itself well.

Indeed, a report published earlier this month by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said the creation of the single force in 2013 had left policing operationally stronger and better placed to deal with major events. Not everything is rosy, though.

The chief constable, Sir Stephen House, has warned that more cuts to backroom staff are likely in 2015.

And the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), a staff association, has said the force will continue to be “stretched” in the coming year, particularly when policing major public events.

In his New Year message, the SPF’s chairman, Brian Docherty, reiterated those warnings. He described the pace of change in the new single service as “frantic and exhausting” for officers.

Concerns have repeatedly been raised about increased centralisation under Police Scotland and a loss of local identity in some divisions of the force.

Mr Docherty said increased demands, including terrorism, human trafficking and the renewed focus on tackling domestic violence and child exploitation had left the force almost at “crisis point”.

“Politicians will undoubtedly seek to make hay on any shortcomings but can no longer be let off the hook of refusing to deal with the realities of the financial shackles placed upon the police service,” he said. In a submission on the Scottish Government’s draft budget earlier this year, Police Scotland noted that more than 90 per cent of its £1 billion annual budget for 2014-15 was spent on staff costs, and required overall savings of £68.2 million to be made. The force is committed to maintaining officer numbers above the 17,000-mark and will not make compulsory redundancies, but the force has warned it will be required to make “difficult choices” about the service it provides.

While 2014 was a year of transition for Police Scotland, it was one where it met a series of challenges head-on and with a good deal of success.

The notable exception was on the issue of armed policing, where the chief constable was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after a public backlash.

The first big item on the agenda in the new year is likely to be a long-awaited report from the Scottish Police Authority on the issue.

While 2014 has been navigated successfully, the year ahead may prove to be more challenging still, with the increased squeeze on public spending continuing to take its effect.

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