Thousands of civilian police jobs face axe says chief
UP TO 3,200 civilian police support staff could be axed to meet “daunting” savings targets, the Chief Constable of Scotland admitted yesterday, speaking for the first time after his appointment to lead the nation’s new single force.
• Stephen House is the first Chief Constable of Scotland
• ‘Up to 3000’ jobs could go in merger
• Mr House says he is worth £208,000 salary
The figure – almost half the 7,000 backroom civilians working for the police in Scotland – has raised fears that officers could be taken off frontline duties to do jobs currently carried out by lower-paid staff, after the merger of eight forces into one in April.
Stephen House, who was named Scotland’s first national chief constable on Tuesday, admitted that the Scottish Government’s short-term saving target – £106 million over the next five years, and £1.7 billion over 15 years – is “daunting”.
He insisted he would maintain the SNP commitment to putting 1,000 additional officers on the street. “A thousand extra officers is a mandate, there’s no debate about that,” Mr House said.
“The most daunting task of all will be managing to improve performance against a background of a tightening budget.
“I’m not going to minimise it. I intend to go away and look at the figures.”
He said he didn’t yet know a precise figure but added: “It will certainly be many, many hundreds of jobs”.
Asked about previous claims by Unison that 3,200 jobs are under threat, he replied: “It could be as high as that.”
His comments drew an angry response from the public sector union, and MSPs have said Mr House should appear before the Scottish Parliament to explain how he plans to hit his targets.
Mr House, who will earn £208,100 a year as Scotland’s most powerful police officer, yesterday set out some of his priorities, including strong community policing, tackling violence and, in particular, domestic abuse, and stopping public contracts from getting into the hands of organised criminals.
“Tackling crime, keeping people safe and building confidence will be at the centre of everything the Police Service of Scotland stands for,” he said.
“The absolute bedrock of this performance will be local policing and its relationship with local communities.
“The determination to combat and prevent the sickening incidents of violence will not change, and that will include domestic abuse as well.
“And we will be relentless and remorseless in our pursuit of
He added: “We need to work with all the public sector agencies to make them as resistant as possible to organised crime.
“We are denying [organised crime gangs] tens of millions of pounds each year and we need to improve upon that.”
But George McIrvine, chairman of Unison Scotland’s police committee, said Mr House’s comments signalled “the beginning of a disaster for Scottish policing”.
Gerry Crawley, the union’s lead officer for police in Scotland, added: “Using officers as expensive replacements for police staff might meet the Scottish Government’s political target – but not the needs of Scotland’s communities.”
Politicians have demanded clarity on the scale of the cuts, and what impact they will have on the service.
Scottish Labour’s Lewis Macdonald said: “The admission by Stephen House that there will be massive cuts to staff jobs to pay for creating a single police force will be a devastating confirmation to staff of what has been feared for so long. The SNP’s hidden agenda has been cruelly exposed.
“Cutting thousands of civilian jobs will mean thousands of police officers behind desks, managing cells or staffing phones, when they should be out on the streets, tackling crime.
“Three thousand fewer civilians in Scotland’s police service will more than cancel out the benefits of 1,000 police officers, if what communities get is simply backroom bobbies doing
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie added: “This comes as no surprise given the warnings about the significant fall in numbers which had previously been intimated.
“Following this announcement, I hope the parliament’s justice committee will interview Mr House to ascertain how he intends to achieve savings of this magnitude over that period of time.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats had been the only party to campaign against a single force.
Party leader Willie Rennie said: “Civilian staff play an absolutely vital role in the police service. The work they do – as intelligence analysts, custody officers and community wardens – allow our police officers to spend the maximum time possible out on the beat.
“They are key to the community-based, preventative policing model that we are currently blessed with in Scotland.”
Writing in today’s Scotsman, his predecessor Tavish Scott also questioned who would scrutinise a national force, and what pressure Kenny MacAskill might exert – although the justice secretary has consistently promised Mr House will be free of political influence.
“If a cover-up by the state can happen over 96 deaths at Hillsborough then imagine what could occur when an incident of far less magnitude occurs,” Mr Scott said.
“A national police force for Scotland will make the cover-up easier.”
The Scottish Government backed Mr House’s assessment that police staff will have to go as the new force takes shape.
“The new service will eliminate duplication by doing things differently and working more effectively and efficiently, saving £1.7bn over 15 years,” a spokeswoman said.
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