Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone has welcomed the creation of two council-funded community policing teams in the Borders and says he would like to see that initiative continue.
Speaking at a meeting with representatives of Scottish Borders Council at its Newtown headquarters last Thursday, Mr Livingstone said he would be happy to see the community officers keep up the good work being done already.
The 14 officers making up the teams should always be in addition to, and not replacements for, officers employed directly by Police Scotland in the region, though, he said.
Replying to questioning by Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine, Mr Livingstone, appointed to his current job in August last year, said: “The deployment of community action teams is a philosophical point that I agree with.
“I do think, and I would like it to be retained, that if local elected members wish to provide additional funding for policing, then I would welcome that, but it has to be additional.
“I think you, as a council, and communities have to see, that this is something that is additional to the core funding that comes from the Scottish Government.”
That welcome for the teams was prompted by Mr Jardine asking him: “Scottish Borders Council is funding two community action teams. Do you feel that local authorities should continue, or be expected to continue, to fund police officers as well as CCTV, or do you have the view that funding from a local authority should stop and then be picked up by the Scottish Government?”
The council launched its first community action team in April 2018 to tackle anti-social behaviour and drug-related crime in the Borders, and a second one followed in September this year.
Between them, they cost the local authority £550,000 a year.
Mr Livingstone also told of the challenges his force has faces in dealing with budget cuts since its formation in 2013, saying: “The financial challenges that we had were intense, and they were immediate.
“We’ve actually lost almost £200m annually from a decreasing budget from 2012 to 2015.
“We’ve taken that out of the budget not because we wanted to but because that is the allocation that came to policing through the Scottish Government and what budget was clearly allocated to them.
“We’ve managed to make significant savings, as required, from the police budget and, at the same time, retain our capabilities and retain our officer strength.
“Another major challenge for me, as chief constable, is the lack of capital investment.
“The capital budget for Police Scotland is actually less than is spent on Shetland Islands Council.
“It’s £45m, which, for a sizeable organisation, is tiny.
“It means that what we inherited from legacy structures – such as poor estate, poor ICT, poor fleet – as we try to upgrade and try to give officers and staff the equipment they need, we are really severely limited.
“At the same time as we try to change the organisation, we have a lot of capital that is almost immediately allocated as we have to do replacements.
“This is nothing that Scottish ministers won’t know, but I think that as a police service we have been, year on year, seriously underfunded, specifically around capital as well as revenue challenges.”
A Holyrood spokesperson disputed that claim, though, saying: “The Scottish Government prioritised reform over cuts, creating a single police service to maintain and improve services in spite of UK Government budget cuts.
“Despite the constraints on Scotland’s public services as a result of a decade of UK Government austerity, total funding for the Scottish Police Authority in 2019-20 is increasing by £42.3m, meaning the annual policing budget is now over £1.2bn.
“Police Scotland’s annual budget has increased by more than £80m since 2016-17 and we have significantly more police officers than at any time before 2007.
“Recorded crime across the Scottish Borders is almost 10% lower than a decade ago.”