Police Scotland facing ‘elephant-sized’ budget gap

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Police Scotland has included a projected deficit of nearly £50 million in its budget for the coming financial year.

A meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) yesterday approved the draft £1.1 billion budget, including a gap in the revenue budget of £47m.

Deputy Chief Officer David Page told board members that work was under way to reduce the deficit, but said it was an “elephant we’re going to have to eat one bite at a time”.

According to a paper presented to the board, the deficit in the revenue budget had been around £60m before a “number of cost reductions and savings proposals” helped reduce it.

Mr Page said: “We’ve taken on quite a lot of stretch to get to the point where it’s only £47m.

“We’ve got targets internally across the organisation at the moment. We’re also rolling out a new way of operating budgets.

“There’s an elephant to eat here and we’re going to eat it one bite at a time.”

He added: “We’re going to focus very hard on making sure we have the financial discipline in place and achieve the targeted savings we have across the organisation to get to £47m. Our ambition, when we’re on target, is to stretch. At the moment, however, we need to walk before we can run. We’re not settling at £47m.”

Earlier this year, Police Scotland was called “an organisation in crisis” after Auditor General Caroline Gardner said the force faced a £200 million funding gap by 2020-21.

Ms Gardner cited “weak financial leadership” in both Police Scotland and the SPA.

Yesterday, Mr Page said previous failings would not be repeated, promising a “completely refreshed approach to financial control”.

Despite the financial challenges, Chief Constable Phil Gormley said his force was in a “much better place” than 12 months ago.

He said: “We’re in a completely different place from this time last year. The fact that we now have a budget that’s intelligible and that there’s a recognition of the size of the challenge and how we are going to tackle it, feels like a much better place.

“There’s a clear way through this. The fact we’re understanding that £47m is the operational deficit from the coming year, that’s a really important acknowledgement and reference point for me.”

Last month Police Scotland announced plans to reduce officers number by 400 by late 2020 as part of a ten-year strategy that will see more crime reported online and an increased reliance on technology.

The national force published a vision of what policing will look like in 2026, including a greater use of civilian specialists to tackle the growing threat of cyber crime.

Speaking at the time, Mr Gormley said his force was currently being “constrained” by budget challenges and had to “transform” to meet both those and the crime threats of the future.

Yesterday’s board meeting also approved the closure of Police Scotland’s control room and service centre in Aberdeen as part of a national strategy to reduce the overall number of call centres.

It also emerged that just one in ten police officers believe that Police Scotland has a “positive future.”

The statistic emerged as part of an internal staff survey discussed yesterday by the SPA board.