Scottish Budget: Police Scotland warnings about budget freeze must be taken seriously – Scotsman comment

Keeping Police Scotland’s budget at the same level would be a cut in real terms

The first duty of any government is to protect the lives of its citizens and Scotland’s emergency services are on the frontline of this vital task. So when Shona Robison weighs the competing demands she is facing ahead of the Scottish Budget, the Finance Secretary should think long and hard before deciding to make any cuts.

There is no question that she has some tough choices to make. But she needs to consider what the public wants their government to do for them, what is truly important. And the basic task of saving life and limb, we suggest, will figure highly on their list of priorities.

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Police Scotland, which is facing a budget freeze under a long-term spending plan, has now warned about the consequences for the force if this goes ahead, including: nearly 1,500 officers could lose their jobs next year with “a reduction in visible local policing”; an inability to “effectively keep people safe in the online space”; and the introduction of a “reduced attendance model”, in which officers would stop responding to some calls. It could also affect the police’s ability to investigate organised crime groups and deal with major incidents.

A lack of focus on law and order is a hostage to fortune that politicians, lulled into a sense of complacency, may regret. The police need to have a degree of slack in the system if they are to respond to the unexpected. And if officers stop investigating some offences, then the 'broken window’ theory suggests this could have a damaging effect on social cohesion and levels of crime.

As in the NHS, there is a danger of a downward spiral, with overworked, demoralised officers deciding to leave or retire early, increasing the pressure on those who remain, while potential new recruits are put off a career that, along with the risks involved, can be more rewarding than many.

Unlike Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Robison does not face the pressure of a looming election. She should be able to avoid playing to the gallery and instead make decisions purely in the national interest. We urge her to remember that the emergency services are, quite literally, life-savers.



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