Cash-strapped police force on course to save nearly £2bn over ten years

Police Scotland is on track to make cumulative savings of nearly £2 billion over the next decade '“ well ahead of its original target.

The figure, which is more than 70 per cent higher than its initial target, has raised questions about whether the cuts to policing have been too hard and too fast. Picture: John Devlin

Details from the national force show it looks set to make efficiencies totalling £1.9bn by 2028 after cutting around 2,000 staff, reducing senior ranks and selling off buildings.

The figure, which is more than 70 per cent higher than its initial target, has raised questions about whether the cuts to policing have been too hard and too fast.

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When Scotland’s eight regional police forces were merged in 2013, it was predicted the move would lead to savings totalling £1.1bn by 2026.

The force is currently halfway through a three-year ­deficit elimination plan and is due to balance the books by 2020-21. However, the cumulative saving of £1.9bn is well above what was previously predicted.

James Gray, Police Scotland’s chief financial officer, said: “Since Police Scotland came into being, it has delivered savings that are now almost £200 million a year.

“There have been significant savings, and the organisation is on target to exceed the original figure in the business case.

“There have been significant savings in police staff headcount. Between voluntary redundancy, voluntary early retirement and also deletion of posts, it’s getting on close to 2,000 posts. There has been a significant reduction in the number of buildings that Police Scotland has and there’s been significant estate savings coming out of that.”

The savings will not benefit Police Scotland in money than can be re-invested, but will simply reduce its cost base.

Earlier this month, police officers were awarded a 6.5 per cent pay rise which will cost the Scottish Government £125m over three years.

However, concerns remain about plans to cut officer numbers, with staff costs accounting for roughly 90 per cent of the police budget.

Calum Steel, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), said: “The police service should not be wearing as a badge of honour the fact that it has effectively delivered 50 per cent more savings than it was expected to at the same time the service is facing unprecedented demands on its time and its officers.”

Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said cutting civilian staff had led police officers to be moved off the frontline and into office jobs. He said: “You can’t keep people safe on the cheap.

“The consequence of these decisions is hundreds of police officers being moved into central police functions at a time when recorded crime is rising for the first time in 12 years.”

Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “It is appropriate to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent as wisely as possible. However, this seems like the SNP’s zeal for cost savings might be going too far. Since the creation of Police Scotland, both the police and the civilian unions have warned of unacceptable pressures on staff and their fears for public safety.

“We also know that crime is now increasing and clear-up rates are decreasing. The SNP must prioritise support for police officers over cost savings and enable them to focus on protecting the public and catching criminals.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A key aim of reforming our police service was to reduce duplication and as a result efficiencies have been made. We have protected Police Scotland’s budget to deliver a £100m boost by 2021.”