Police Scotland budget '˜about £80m short of being sustainable'

MSPs have raised concerns over whether Police Scotland's budget is big enough to meet the challenges it faces.

Police Scotland is also being affected by a large annual VAT bill. Picture: John Devlin
Police Scotland is also being affected by a large annual VAT bill. Picture: John Devlin

The cross-party Holyrood justice sub-committee on policing said it was a “cause for concern” that evidence from staff associations and unions had suggested the current level of funding was “insufficient”.

The committee also raised the issue of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) holding key meetings about the force’s budget in private, excluding both staff and members of the public. The comments came in a report to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee after MSPs heard evidence from bodies such as the Scottish Police Federation and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS).

Unveiling its draft budget earlier this week, the Scottish Government said the £1.1 billion annual police budget would be protected in real terms in the coming financial year. But an update to the SPA board meeting revealed Police Scotland is facing a net overspend of £17.5m this year.

Mary Fee, convener, said: “The sub-committee notes the cabinet secretary’s evidence that the forecast overspend of the 2016-17 budget may be reduced. However, evidence from policing bodies suggesting that levels of basic police funding are currently insufficient is a cause for concern.”

Justice secretary Michael Matheson told committee members the forecast overspend could be reduced due to funds expected to be recouped from a botched IT overhaul.

However, Chief Superintendent Gordon Crossan, of ASPS, said the 2016-17 budget was being “propped up” by £55m of one-off reform cash and “is about £80m short of a sustainable budget”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our draft budget continues to protect police revenue funding in real terms and provides an overall increase to the SPA budget that also meets the VAT costs imposed by the UK government.

“Our continuation of the reform funding will allow Police Scotland to continue its transformation of the service, with the right combination of officers, civilian expertise and other staff.

“We will also continue to press UK ministers over the glaring disparity on VAT which sees Police Scotland, unlike all other UK territorial police forces, unable to recover VAT, at a cost of more than £75m to the Scottish public purse since 2013.”