Police budget cuts to leave just enough to ‘keep lights on’

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Police Scotland has warned a reduction in its budget will lower morale, undermine its attempts to defeat organised crime and leave it unable to do little more than “keep the lights on”.

Deputy chief officer David Page told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) the force had been given an indication there would be a “very substantial reduction” in capital and reform funding in next month’s Scottish Government draft budget.

Effectively we will be channelling the funding we do get to purely keep the lights on in policing

DAVID PAGE Police Scotland deputy chief officer

Mr Page, the force’s most senior civilian officer, said commitments on issues like officer numbers were based on agreed assumptions with the government about the level of funding the national force receives.

In 2018/19 Police Scotland received an overall budget of £1.1 billion, which included £23 million of capital funding and £30m of reform funding.

Mr Page said a reduction in those two allocations would see the force default to a “care and maintenance scenario” and leave it unable to progress in areas needing investment. He said: “The indication we’re receiving is that there will be a very substantial reduction to capital and reform funding for Police Scotland.

“If that proves to be the case, we’ll have very little funding to do transformation. We’ll be defaulting into a care and maintenance scenario in terms of what we can do with the funding available. In fact, the funding available will be less that what we asked for last year.

“Effectively we will be channelling the funding we do get to purely keep the lights on in policing.”

Earlier this year, Police Scotland said it would need nearly £300m over nine years to modernise its ageing IT system.

Mr Page said failure to invest meant losing ground on “the bad guys”, whom he said were improving their technological capabilities all the time.

He said: “If we can’t move forward on investment, if we can’t move forward on transformation, it will have a significant impact on morale within the police service.

“We made a number of promises, a number of commitments, some of which go back many years. If we can’t deliver on that, it does start to undermine the confidence of officers and staff.

“The other impact of this is that it means the gap between us and the criminals and serious organised crime continues to widen.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting Police Scotland, including through real terms protection of the service’s revenue budget throughout the life of this parliament – a £100m boost by 2021. We are also providing dedicated police reform funding totalling £31m this financial year, in addition to the service’s £1.1bn annual funding.”