Crime could soar if 'systemic underfunding' of Police Scotland continues, says top cop

Crime in Scotland could soar if the "systemic underfunding" of the national constabulary is allowed to continue, the country's top officer has warned.

Speaking ahead of Holyrood's draft budget announcement, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone raised the prospect of officers no longer being able to investigate certain types of crime due to budgetary constraints.

Newly released figures show the number of full-time officers serving in Police Scotland rose by 84 last year, giving the constabulary a total strength of 17,259 as of December 31.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Audit Scotland last month warned that up to 750 frontline officers could lose their jobs unless funding of the force increases by £50m over the next two years.

The number of full-time police officers in Scotland rose by 0.5 per cent last year

The Scottish Government said police officer numbers north of the Border remained significantly higher than at any time before 2007.

Read More
'Police officer numbers must be cut' says top cop

The chief constable said: 'I don't think it's a crisis at the moment. I think if the systemic underfunding continues, it could potentially become one.

"The current resource levels are unsustainable against the existing funding and we would have to look extremely hard at what the options are (if insufficient funding was given to policing)."

Mr Livingstone, a former assistant chief constable at Lothian and Borders Police, pointed to the example of the Netherlands, where a merger of regional constabularies into a national force took 12 years - compared to a single year in Scotland.

"The challenge of creating a single service in a compressed time-frame - high levels of operational demand in the early years, through the Commonwealth Games and other factors, and the fact we needed to drive out significant savings but in a way that meant the number of police officers didn't drop - with the benefit of hindsight, that is quite a difficult challenge that policing in Scotland has managed to pull off," he said in an interview with the Scottish Daily Mail.

He added: "The challenge for the police service is to strike a balance around a proportionate response and one that meets the needs of a particular victim or complainer. But it is a challenge and you do, at times, need the wisdom of Solomon to strike the balance between these competing demands."

"Most people don't physically come in to police stations. If they want contact, they want to send an email, they want to use WhatsApp or their phone; they want accessibility and they want to know the support is there.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We will always have police officers and staff spread across the whole of Scotland - where they are located and how they work will be dependent on local needs, and the way that society changes."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Since 2016-17 the annual budget for policing has increased by more than £80 million, bringing it to £1.2 billion for 2019-20. Discussions around the Scottish budget for 2020-21 continue. However, we will continue to ensure our police service is supported to help keep communities safe.

“Despite cuts to Scotland’s budget through a decade of UK austerity, police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly higher than at any time before 2007 – at the same time as officer numbers in England have declined by more than 19,000. Ministers will also continue to press the UK Government to pay back the £125 million VAT paid before the Treasury reversed the policy.”