Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is facing pressure to make a Holyrood statement over claims that police numbers in Scotland have been “secretly” falling below the SNP’s flagship 17,234 target.
Officer numbers fell below this for ten out of the 13 weeks in the past three months, according to figures obtained by the Sun newspaper.
The force said that there are always “fluctuations” in numbers but the important measure is at the end of the quarter.
But Labour justice spokeswoman Clare Baker said: “These are incredibly serious allegations. Michael Matheson should be explaining this to Parliament as a matter of urgency.
“People are sick of statistics being spun when they see the reality in their own communities – a police force facing huge cuts from the SNP government in Edinburgh. It would be completely unacceptable If official statistics have been manipulated to get the SNP out of jail on police cuts.”
The figures for this year appear to show a pattern of decline in the build-up to the week when quarterly figures were made public in June and September. At this stage they spike above the 17,234 target level, prompting claims that Police Scotland is “rushing recruits” on to the books to boost numbers.
A police spokesman said: “Officer numbers are formally reported quarterly. Returns to date confirm a quarterly strength above 17,234. There will be weekly fluctuations in numbers as a result of monthly retiral patterns, but we continue to recruit with an intake of 150 last month and further intakes planned.”
But Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “If there has been a systematic cheating of the system to cover up the SNP’s blushes it is simply unacceptable. It would be the very worst type of target culture — where the figures are fiddled because PR is deemed more important than the reality on the ground. The public deserves to know if officer numbers have been inflated in this way and, if so, at whose command.”
The promise to increase police numbers by 1,000 has been at the heart of the SNP’s justice policy since it won power in Scotland nine years ago. It remains unclear though, if it will continue in the future with a study currently being undertaken into how many officers and civilian staff are necessary.
A government spokesman said: “While weekly fluctuations are to be expected as staff leave and new recruits start, the picture of sustained officer strength is well above levels before 2007.”