Cash-strapped Police Scotland facing £22m budget ‘underspend’

Police are appealing for witnesses to serious assault.
Police are appealing for witnesses to serious assault.
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Scotland’s cash-strapped national police force will “underspend” £22 million of money earmarked for reform and capital investment this year, it has emerged.

Police Scotland said work to allocate funds as part of a developing three-year 
strategy was “still under 
development”.

The force, which has an annual budget of around £1.1 billion, is predicting a deficit of around £45m for its main revenue budget.

But this week it confirmed to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) that elements of its 
capital and reform budgets will remain unspent.

Last year the Scottish Government let the force and
the SPA underspend the capital
budget to offset an overspend of the revenue budget as an “exceptional” measure.
James Gray, Police Scotland’s chief financial officer, said: “Police Scotland is currently developing a three-year plan to implement a number of programmes of activity across the organisation in support of the long-term strategy.

“The spend associated with this programme is still under development and is forecast to result in capital and reform monies being underspent by £22m this year.

“Work is now under way to identify priority areas aligned to the 2026 strategy where spending could be brought forward to this year.”

Earlier this year, Auditor General Caroline Gardner warned that Police Scotland will face a £200m funding gap by 2020-21, an estimate she described as “conservative”.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The situation clearly isn’t as simple as Police Scotland just having £22m lying in a drawer waiting to be spent. But people will be sceptical of a force pleading poverty when this level of underspend exists. Perhaps budgets within the organisation need to be looked at more closely to ensure some areas aren’t suffering cutbacks while others have money to burn.

“There has to be a question around where the £22m is currently sitting, how it can be used next year and whether the Scottish Government will use this as an excuse to reduce next year’s police budget.”

The SPA said: “At this early
stage in year, there is still a level of uncertainty about planned spend and savings.

“Notwithstanding this, members of the SPA’s finance committee sought assurance from Police Scotland that all measures were being taken to progress capital projects and deliver efficiency savings in year.

“The committee expects to see progress in this regard at the end of Q2.”