The safety of Scotland’s police officers is being put at risk by the state of the buildings where they work, some of which are “falling down” around them, MSPs have been told.
The Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents rank-and-file officers, said one police station was “held together with hazard tape” and another appeared to be “carved out of asbestos”.
Calum Steele, the organisation’s general secretary, said the working conditions endured by many officers were an “utter embarrassment” caused by a chronic lack of funding.
MSPs were told that an estimated £200 million was needed to ensure the Police Scotland estate complied with building standards and fire regulations, but only £4m had been allocated for this year.
Chief Superintendent Ivor Marshall, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, told MSPs the issues had been raised repeatedly.
“We can speak the truth to power and say there are buildings falling down, there are cars in back yards that can’t go out, but if there isn’t the funding there to repair and replace those then it’s not moving the issue forward,” he said.
The problems extend to the force’s vehicle fleet, with officers driving around in “rusting vans” and expressing “surprise” if they were given a car with under 100,000 miles on the clock.
Police Scotland’s capital spending – money used for buildings, cars, equipment and infrastructure such as IT – currently equates to only £1,126 per employee, one of the lowest figures in the UK.
London’s Metropolitan Police, a force of comparable size, currently spends £10,857 per employee, with Scotland’s force ranked 38th out of 42 across the UK. Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee on policing, Mr Steele described some of the buildings used by officers as “frankly decrepit”.
“The Paisley office is pretty much held together with black and yellow hazard tape,” he said.
“The Ayr office I think was probably carved out of asbestos, there is so much asbestos in the building.
“Even our relatively new buildings are falling into a state of disrepair because no money is being spent on maintenance. They look tired and they look shabby.”
Warning of significant “risks and dangers” to officers’ safety, he added: “We have water coming in and around electricity points. We have water coming in around stairwells. Our floors are not maintained.
“One of the biggest causes of workplace pay-outs are slips, trips and falls. These kind of things place significant additional pressure on a police service with very little money.”
The SPA also published a series of pictures of police stations around the country showing broken toilets, mouldy walls, leaking pipes and electric wiring held together with gaffer tape.
Andy Malcolm, chair of the Scottish Police Federation’s east area committee, said the state of the force’s vehicles was also starting to damage officers’ ability to respond to incidents as so many vehicles were being repaired.
“There are times when officers are finding only two serviceable vehicles out of ten,” he said.
Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said staff safety was a priority, but added that the force needed “significant capital funding” to address historic under-investment.
“The current allocation is significantly smaller than would be proportionate for an organisation of our size and scope,” he said.
“Across a multitude of demands, we are prioritising the capital budget and are investing in the right areas to achieve as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “While the allocation of resources is for the chief constable and Scottish Police Authority to determine, we are providing £1.2bn funding for policing this year. This includes a 52 per cent increase in the capital budget to allow essential investment in IT infrastructure and support mobile working to enable officers to access information remotely and spend more time in communities.”
Susan Deacon, chair of the Scottish Police Authority, said: “The SPA board has been crystal clear on the need for a substantial uplift in capital investment for policing.
“That’s why we’re investing our time and energies in making a robust evidence-based case for additional funding to government.”