Police chiefs arrest plans for new HQ

CASH-strapped police chiefs have been forced to impose a recruitment freeze on support staff and scrap plans for a new HQ, it emerged today.

Plans for a new headquarters in the Leith docks development were drawn up to replace the Fettes base, which has been branded "not fit for purpose".

But senior officers are under pressure to slash costs following projections that the force may face a 20 per cent funding cut over the next five years.

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Instead, any funding available will be used to upgrade the stations at Leith and Gayfield Square, while continuing to base operations at Fettes.

Meanwhile, police chiefs have agreed to put a moratorium on filling vacant posts among the 1,400-strong civilian support staff, with only posts regarded as "critical" being replaced.

It follows a move revealed in April to set up a voluntary redundancy and early retirement scheme for police staff, although targets have not been set.

Police chiefs said they were "taking measures to adapt to new circumstances", but pledged to maintain the force's service to the public.

Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, said: "A new police HQ has been an aspiration for a number of years, either built on the current site or elsewhere.

"The current building is not quite what you would hope for under modern standards but very little capital funding will be available in the next few years.

"Under present financial conditions, savings will need to be made somewhere. By stopping recruiting police staff, existing staff can still be redeployed to other roles as necessary."

The proposals for a purpose-built HQ at the 350-acre waterfront site at Leith docks were first unveiled in May 2008.

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The Fettes building is unable to cope with staff numbers and the changing needs of the force. It was built in 1973 to house just 450 staff, but now more than 900 personnel are crammed into the building.

The force cited the docklands as "an attractive location", with the plans also suggesting the opening of a new "civic building" in the development where officers patrolling Leith could be stationed.

A police spokesman said: "In recent years, Lothian and Borders Police has explored the possibility of relocating, however the costs involved have always been too great.

"A decision has been taken to invest the funds that are available in upgrading existing police property."

The spokesman added: "The force has taken the decision to impose a moratorium on the automatic filling of police staff posts, to ensure that we are in the best possible position to manage future reductions in funding."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring that we have a modern and efficient police service in Scotland. However, the composition of staff in police forces is an operational matter for chief constables."

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