Leaders: Overseas training reveals police funding crisis

THE WORK by Police Scotland to train foreign forces in nations with dubious human rights records is no way to raise money

Police Scotlands decision to send its offers abroad to train foreign forces deserves particular scrutiny. Picture: John Devlin

The financial travails of Police Scotland have been well documented in recent months. The national force faces a funding gap of almost £85 million by 2018-19 and despite the buoyant outlook of the Scottish Police Authority, savings totalling around £1.1 billion must be found by 2026. Meeting such targets will require more than an efficiency drive. Nothing less than a generation-long shift in strategy will suffice.

Quite how that is achieved in practice is a matter of considerable debate, but Police Scotland’s decision to send its offers abroad to train foreign forces deserves particular scrutiny.

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This overseas drive has been rolled out in countries such as Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates, while it was reported recently that the Police Scotland College has made nearly £1.8m training officers from countries including Pakistan and South Sudan.

Addressing Westminster’s Home Affairs Select Committee, Chief Constable Phil Gormley described it as “outreach work”. This seems like an ill-fitting and disingenuous description. No matter their personal empathy or belief in the community-building virtues of their profession, Scotland’s police officers are not the natural successors to David Livingstone. Let us be in no doubt, this work is purely concerned with raising money.

If the principle of this foreign tutelage leaves some feeling apprehensive, the nations who are availing themselves of Scotland’s longstanding reputation for policing and justice ought to amplify their discomfort. These are countries with exceptionally poor human rights records and with the best will in the world, a delegation of Scotland’s fines stand little chance of instigating institutional change.

According to human rights organisations, the authorities in Sri Lanka have used methods of torture including beatings, rape, electric shocks and mock executions. No amount of leadership mentoring will end such barbaric methods overnight.

But there is a wider problem with this arrangement. It is clear evidence that the model for Scotland’s national force – now in its fourth year – is not funded properly. To have to raise money in this way demonstrates the paucity of resources at Police Scotland’s disposal. This is the key issue, one that must not be overshadowed by red herrings such as calls for the officers in question to return permanently to Scottish soil; in truth, it is likely to be a small number who are involved in the overseas work. They alone would be unlikely to make a sizeable impact on crime rates were they to be returned to their home beat.

The force has received criticism over other efficiency drives of late, such as selling off old vehicles and surplus property, but these are sensible exercises that should be encouraged.

The foreign work may be profitable, but at what price? More importantly, is it the only realistic way of raising money? Mr Gormley said the training is carried out with the full knowledge of the Scottish Government. If that is case, the government must look at a new business model for policing. The existing one does not add up.

Damaging rise in alcohol sales

If only an analysis of the latest in alcohol sales figures in Scotland could be described as “sobering”. This unfortunate description jars with the news today that our consumption levels, which had been falling since 2009 but are now on the rise again, show 20 per cent more was sold in Scotland last year, per adult, than in England in Wales.

The breakdown should make us all stop and think. According to figures released by NHS Health Scotland today, every adult in Scotland bought the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 477 pints of beer last year. How many of us would admit to buying nearly every week a bottle of vodka, ten pints of beer, or two bottles of wine?

To reach this average, which takes into account those who are teetotal (16 per cent last year, according to one survey), occasional drinkers, and the elderly, there must be some serious damage being done by those at the higher end of the scale.

Tellingly, 97 per cent of the total difference in per adult sales between Scotland and England and Wales was due to higher sales through supermarkets and off-licences. Increasingly, we are drinking at home instead of making the traditional excuse of being “social drinkers”, and taking advantage of attractive pricing in retail outlets.

Unfortunately, the ability to tackle this issue is currently hamstrung by the minimum pricing wrangle. The Scottish Government is intent on introducing this policy, but legal challenge means that time is standing still on finding a way to best tackle our drink problem. And during that time, the problem is worsening. Ultimately it may not be needed, but a ready-to-go Plan B in the event of minimum pricing failing is essential.