Chris Marshall: Police Scotland hunting cash to make ends meet

Scotland's national police force is skint.

Police Scotland has an annual revenue budget of around £1bn. Picture: John Devlin

With savings totalling £1.1 billion to find by 2026, Police Scotland is facing increasingly difficult decisions about the service it offers.

Last week The Scotsman revealed the force will this year be entitled to keep capital receipts totalling £5.8 million raised through the sale of police vehicles and surplus buildings.

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It follows a deal reached with the Scottish Government, which is due to run until 2018-19.

It’s money the force desperately needs after seeing the capital funding it receives from the government fall from £40m in 2015-16 to £22m this year.

Indeed much of this year’s capital expenditure is already accounted for thanks to “slippage” in last year’s budget, according to a report which went before the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) last week.

That’s a worry for Police Scotland which needs to spend millions on its crumbling buildings, many of which were neglected under the eight legacy forces which were merged in 2013.

While Police Scotland has an annual revenue budget of around £1bn, about 90 per cent of that goes on staff costs.

The smaller capital budget is used to fund key areas such as IT, vehicles, forensics and its building estate.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents 98 per cent of rank and file officers, has warned the force faces “drastic” decisions about how it operates.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley alluded to that within days of taking up his job in December, calling for a “grown-up” conversation with the public and politicians about what police priorities should be. The good news for the police is that the SNP appear to have listened to concerns over officer numbers.

Ever since a 2007 manifesto pledge to increase the number of bobbies on the beat by 1,000, the party has been wedded to a policy which put increased financial strain on Scottish policing.

The extra officers pledge did not appear in the party’s most recent manifesto, and the expectation is that Police Scotland will now be allowed to make its own decisions on staffing.

That will undoubtedly help the force balance the books, but it needs to make sure there is no increase in crime as a result.

Despite being hit by a series of high-profile controversies since its formation three years ago, Police Scotland has continued to preside over a situation where recorded crime is at its lowest level for more than 40 years.

According to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), which was published yesterday, 58 per cent of people rate Police Scotland as “good or excellent” in their local area, although that figure has fallen from 61 per cent two years ago.

But while things are slowly improving on the ground, there have been a series of warnings over the budget.

In December, Audit Scotland warned of “significant issues” in the accounts of the SPA, with a potential funding gap of £85m developing for the police by 2018-19.

The report came as HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said budget savings were impacting on police effectiveness.

Having weathered controversies over stop and search and armed policing, Police Scotland is now enjoying a period of relative calm and stability.

Its biggest woes for the time being – and for the forseeable future – are financial.