SCOTLAND’S top police officer has warned MSPs there will be more redundancies in the force in the years ahead, with a “significant rationalisation” of the service.
Sir Stephen House said Police Scotland would be forced to close more stations to the public and shut down more control rooms. He also suggested the force would have to sell off part of its property portfolio, including a “significant” number of homes for police officers.
He told Holyrood’s justice committee that Police Scotland faced a £64 million shortfall this year, but was only £2m-£3m away from balancing its budget.
His remarks came as Unison’s Police Staff Scotland Branch said about 450 civilian employees had been lost through early retirement and voluntary redundancy since 1 April, with a “significant number” of these jobs backfilled by police officers.
Sir Stephen said the force had no policy to backfill staff, but this had happened on “the odd occasion”.
He went on to say that Police Scotland was committed to keeping officers on the streets, citing proposals to scrap police counters as an example of this.
Sir Stephen insisted the SNP government’s flagship policy of 1,000 extra officers on the streets was not at risk due to funding pressures. The chief constable said the figure of 1,000 extra officers was “something we work within”, as he said the force would maintain its current force of 17,324 officers.
He said the loss of civilian jobs was necessary to meet challenging savings over the coming years.
Sir Stephen said: “There will be more civilian staff voluntary redundancies and early retirement in the years ahead. We are reviewing our property costs. We have 800 buildings and less than half of those are operational. A significant number of these are residential properties.
“We’ll go through a significant rationalisation. There are still ten control rooms. We won’t need ten control rooms.”
Police Scotland is consulting on closing 70 of its 214 public-facing counters.
David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said this week that a full review of the police’s estate was imminent and necessary, if it was to meet savings targets of £139m over the next two financial years.
However, Unison’s Stevie Diamond told the committee the union had “grave concerns” about the consequences of the loss of police staff and the backfilling of their jobs by officers.
Sir Stephen responded: “With the vast majority [of the 450 jobs] there is no backfilling to be done. I don’t agree with Stevie on this.”
He said 150 staff who worked on front counters wanted to leave under voluntary redundancy.
“We are consulting around the front counter opening hours, because we don’t want to backfill with police officers, we want them out on the streets.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland are working to develop an estates strategy for policing. The aim will be to ensure the most efficient use of resources, while safeguarding local policing from Westminster cuts.”