SCOTLAND’S top police officer has warned that the SNP government’s key pledge of 1,000 extra policemen on the beat cannot survive the financial cutbacks being imposed on the force.
Stephen House, who is the head of the new single-force Police Service of Scotland, believes he can only guarantee the pledge for one more financial year because of the savings that ministers are asking him to make.
He insists that police numbers will have to be cut in 2014-15 or 2015-16 unless he is given more money.
Although required savings of £60 million in the first year of operation of the force are achievable, he said, the pressure on frontline services will increase in the following two years when a further £130m is expected to be slashed from the budget, partly through voluntary redundancies.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, House, who was appointed the chief constable in the Strathclyde region in 2007, said: “I think the 1,000 extra officers have been extremely beneficial; keeping officer numbers high is important. The public wants to be able to see police officers, it adds to their sense of well being, so I am always keen to maximise the numbers of police officers.
“But how much money police get is a decision for government, not police, and we will have to cut our cloth. Whether we can do that [keep up the number of extra officers] it’s unlikely, even with voluntary redundancy for support staff.
“Sixty-five per cent of our budget is police numbers. It becomes mathematically impossible if you keep that.”
House added: “This is not about money, it’s about a political choice. The government decides the budget the police get, not the police.”
The Police Service of Scotland chief’s comments were made despite major savings being forecast as a result of the move from eight forces to one next year. The number of senior police chiefs will be slashed from 31 to 11 as a result although three chief constables will have to be kept on at that level until suitable posts are found for them because of contractual obligations. They also come at a time when, according to official statistics, crime is at a 37-year low and public confidence in the police is high.
Ministers have insisted that one of the reasons that overall crime is falling is because of their commitment to extra officers.
Lewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman said: “This is the first time Steve House has explicitly addressed the question of police numbers. He has been clear he does not have enough money to maintain the service.
“I think the reality is that, because of the commitment to maintain police numbers, civilian jobs are being sacrificed in large numbers. The sooner he begins to plan accordingly the better.”
Unison has previously raised concerns that the Scottish Government’s desire to maintain high police numbers, at the expense of civilian staff, will lead to officers doing desk jobs rather than preventing and detecting crime. “Even in years one and two, many of these police officers will be employed in jobs currently done by police staff,” a spokesman said.
“Steve House is doing his best to deliver what the government wants. The government has to admit they’ve got this horribly wrong.” The Scottish Government dismissed House’s concerns and insisted the 1,000 extra police officer pledge will continue to be met.
A spokeswoman said: “This government, the Scottish Police Authority and the police service are all committed to maintaining the 1,000 extra officers we have delivered since 2007.
“The Police Service of Scotland offers a unique opportunity to build on the excellent performance of Scottish policing. It will also safeguard frontline policing against Westminster budget cuts – reducing duplication will deliver savings of £1.3 billion over 15 years.”