Dramatic cut to Police officers could help meet cost pressure

Police could face cutting pay budgets as possible way to address operating deficits. Picture: Greg Macvean

Police Scotland has warned it could be forced to dramatically reduce officer numbers to meet the “significant cost pressure” associated with scrapping the public sector pay cap.

The force said increasing salaries by just 2 per cent would require £26 million of savings to be found – the equivalent of 600 officers. The concerns were raised as crime statistics showed a 6 per cent rise in violent crime and sexual offences at the highest level since records began more than 40 years ago.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed earlier this month that the 
1 per cent cap on public sector pay rises will be removed next year.

Police Scotland said a 2 per cent pay award in September 2018 would bring an additional cost pressure of £25.8 million by 2020/21.

The force, which has already outlined plans to cut 400 officers by 2020, said the savings needed would be the equivalent of further reducing numbers by 600 or cutting 850 extra civilian staff over the next three years.

In a report to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), Police Scotland said it was likely the only way of addressing future operating deficits would be to consider pay budgets, which make up around 90 per cent of the force’s costs.

On the subject of removing the pay cap, the report notes: “An additional 1 per cent award will require an additional £25.8m of savings to be identified to achieve a balanced budget in 2020/21.

“To put that into context, a further £25.8m of savings would be the equivalent of reducing the police office establishment by an additional 600 officers or the equivalent of reducing police staff numbers by a further 850 over the next three years.”

It adds: “It is currently assumed that the impact of this policy change, leading to any increase above the existing 1 per cent pay constraint, would be funded. However, there has been no commitment from the Scottish Government to do this.”

Police Scotland, which has an annual budget of £1.1 billion, is predicting a deficit of around £45m in the current financial year.

Publishing its draft ten-year strategy earlier this year, the force said officer numbers would be kept at their current level for 2017/18 before a slowing in recruitment, leading to an overall reduction of 400 officers by 2020.

The strategy places an increased reliance on technology and a greater use of civilian specialists to tackle the growing threat of cyber crime.

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “This is exactly the kind of warning the SNP and Labour need to pay attention to on this issue.

“They can’t offer warm words on this subject without considering the implications.

“Officers are already overstretched, and simply can’t afford to have their numbers depleted even further. There is no question that officers are worthy of a pay review, but if the cap is to be lifted, the Scottish Government must give assurances that public safety won’t be compromised in the process.”

Figures published yesterday by the Scottish Government showed a three per cent fall in overall recorded crime, despite increases in violent and sexual offences.

The overall clear-up rate fell, with just 50 per cent of all crimes detected by police.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman, Claire Baker, said: “Even a two per cent rise would remain a real terms pay cut for police officers and staff.

“If the SNP is going to lift the pay cap then they must provide the additional resources and not make hard pressed public bodies have to find the rise out of existing budget.”

She added: “It would be wrong to lift the pay cap by cutting jobs and services.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Public sector workers in Scotland and across the UK deserve a fair deal, and we will deliver a pay policy that is affordable and recognises real life circumstances.

“However to ensure we can really improve both pay and public services it is time for the UK Government to end austerity and invest properly in public services and those who work in them.

“We will continue to press the UK Government over the glaring VAT disparity which means that the Scottish Police Authority is the only territorial police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT. This could see a cost to the Scottish public purse of £200 million by the end of the current parliamentary session.”