Prosecutors escape jobs axe after fresh Budget cash

Scotland's prosecution service has shelved the prospect of hundreds of job cuts after winning a funding reprieve in last week's budget, it has emerged.

James Wolffe QC, Lord Advocate, appears before the Justice Committee. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA Wire

Bosses at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) had drawn up plans which would seen up to 200 over the next five years staff axed as it faced the prospect of a fall in its budget.

But the Scottish Government’s draft budget unveiled last week outlines more than £114 million for COPFS in 2018/19, a real-terms increase.

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Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC told MSPs it means that job losses next year will be avoided.

A five-year workforce plan for the Crown Office predicted 150-200 staff would go by 2022/23 to save costs.

Crown Agent David Harvie told Holyrood’s justice committee yesterday that the service had been anticipating a flat cash settlement from the budget and the increased cash means the cut of about 30 staff in 2018/19 would not be required.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, he said without the extra money “the choice would have become increasingly difficult”.

He added: “We would have found ourselves in a situation where I would have been presenting options to the Lord Advocate about what a service at those levels might look like.”

Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur questioned why the cut of up to 200 staff being “likely to lead to scenarios where services may need to be scaled back or removed entirely” was not highlighted to the committee previously.

Mr Harvie said the options would have been large-scale changes to the system and stressed the future needs of the service were constantly changing.

Mr Wolffe added: “A real-terms increase in the service’s budget will allow the service to respond to the release of the cap on public sector pay, to do so from April, and at the same time to choose to retain its staffing at or about current levels.”

He said this was a “significant departure” from the previous planning.

The Procurators Fiscal Society of the FDA union stated in a submission to the committee the budget for the service faces a real-terms cut of more than a fifth between 2009/10 and 2018/19, down almost £35 million.

Green MSP John Finnie said the PCS union submission to the committee states the service had “taken the approach of making savings by cutting staff”.

Mr Wolffe said it is “certainly not the case” savings from staff were being prioritised over savings from elsewhere and said the priority was cutting costs in other areas where possible.

He added: “It has seen a reduction in overall staff levels of about 20 over the past year. The current budget allocation will allow for stability in the year to come.”

Labour’s Mary Fee highlighted Copfs staff members who reported being “stressed to death” and facing “almost impossible” workloads.

Mr Harvie said actions were being taken to address staff concern over workload and added the percentage of the budget spent on staff costs was 59 per cent in 2010 and is predicted to be 72 per cent next year.

He said: “What I am projecting for next year in light of this settlement is that we will have increased stability and increased pay and also increased permanence.