POLICE officers are filling in for departing civilian support staff on a daily basis, the head of the national force has confirmed.
Almost 800 staff have left under Police Scotland’s cost-cutting drive and, although there is no policy to replace them with officers, that is now happening, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House told MSPs yesterday.
Speaking at Holyrood’s public audit committee, Sir Stephen said: “We do not have a policy or strategy to backfill support staff with police officers. Of course it happens on a daily basis, but it’s not part of a plan.”
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the force’s civilian oversight body, said the Scottish Government’s commitment to retaining 1,000 extra police officers would make cost-cutting “hugely challenging”.
But Sir Stephen said he was confident that £1.1 billion of savings requested by the government by 2026 could be achieved and confirmed the force was focusing on solutions that did not involve shedding staff.
Police Scotland has also received 2,000 applications for voluntary redundancy from its 7,500 police staff roll, 330 of them from control rooms.
SPA chairman Vic Emery said most of the control-room staff had been told they could not leave until digital control rooms had been built, the location of which had still to be agreed.
He said: “We can’t let them go because we have an operational need to keep them until we get an IT system in place that will facilitate that.”
A report by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland last week warned it was not clear how the £1.1bn savings would be made. However, Police Scotland was not relying on staff cuts to make the savings required, MSPs were told.
“They are a big chunk of the budget, but we are looking as heavily as we can at non-people to try and find savings there,” Sir Stephen said. “We are approaching 800 [staff leaving] this year but it’s not a case of if we don’t reach that number we won’t balance our budget.”
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: “The government’s commitment to 17,254 police officers and no compulsory redundancies limits the flexibility in looking at those staff costs.
“It’s entirely appropriate for the government to make those sorts of commitments, but it does mean the way that these financial savings can be made and frontline police services maintained becomes very important.”