Recruitment freeze as Strathclyde Police faces squeeze on its spending

SCOTLAND'S biggest police force has imposed an instant recruitment freeze as concerns grow over a spending squeeze.

Strathclyde Police said the move was due to uncertainty over public sector budgets, as the funding crisis for frontline services continues to grip Scotland.

The decision means that a planned intake of 100 probationary officers to the Scottish Police College between August and October will not now go ahead.

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Strathclyde's decision sparked fears that other forces could follow suit with recruitment freezes, as police budgets come under increasing pressure.

Northern Constabulary had recruitment on hold before hiring 20 officers in May and Lothian and Borders Police imposed a freeze on filling vacant posts in April in response to possible cuts hitting the force.

Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police said it could face cuts of up to 10 per cent of its budget of about 450 million next year. The force will suspend recruitment of officers after the current intake of 65 probationary officers enters the Scottish Police College this month, while a freeze on police staff will take effect immediately.

Strathclyde Police director of human resources John Gillies, said yesterday: "While we don't know exactly the scale of the cuts we will be facing, early indications are that it could be anywhere up to 10 per cent of our budget in the next financial year.

"We have to prepare for that. We have more or less stopped recruiting police staff over the past few months, and today we are formalising that.

"We also have to be realistic about the number of officers we can afford to recruit at this time of uncertainty."

Mr Gillies went on to say there had been a "massive expansion" in police numbers in Strathclyde during the past two years and it now had more than 8,000 officers.

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, claimed that Strathclyde's recruitment freeze had resulted because the force had been "let down by the Scottish Government".

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Mr Baker, whose North-east constituency covers the Grampian Police area, warned that more forces could be hit by recruitment freezes due to a lack of funding form Holyrood.

He said: "For the past year Strathclyde Police Authority has been warning that they were not receiving adequate funding to maintain recruitment. I wouldn't be surprised if others forces followed suit with a freeze on recruitment."

He added: "There will then be real concerns about the impact this will have on community policing."

Scottish Tory justice spokesman, John Lamont, blamed the funding crisis on the last UK Labour government, which he said had caused the problem by leaving the country buried in debt.

He said: "We all know that Labour's massive debt legacy means savings are inevitable. Strathclyde Police are to be commended for recognising this."

Lib Dem Chief Whip Mike Rumbles accused the SNP government of failing to deliver on its promise to increase police numbers across Scotland.

He said: "This promise is starting to have a hollow ring."

However, the Scottish Government claimed it was on track to deliver on its promise to increase the number of extra police officers by 1,000 by next year.

A government spokesman said: "We have already delivered a record number of police officers in Scotland - a total of 17,409 - and our 1,000 additional police officers pledge by the end of this parliament has been met ahead of schedule, with 1,175 more officers now compared to March 2007.