Police Scotland numbers lower despite Brexit concerns

The number of Police Scotland officers fell in the past year despite looming concerns over Brexit.

Police Scotland has postponed plans to reduce officer numbers further

Figures from the national force show there were 81 fewer officers (17,175) on 31 December when compared with 2017.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone recently postponed plans to reduce numbers by a further 300 amid uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the EU, and has brought forward the recruitment of around 100 new officers.

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Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said the situation in Scotland compared favourably with England and Wales where there has been a 14 per cent fall in numbers since 2007.

But Labour said officer numbers had "fallen dramatically" since Scotland’e eight regional forces were merged to form Police Scotland in 2013.

A previous commitment to keep numbers 1,000 officers higher than the situation inherited by the SNP in 2007 was dropped from the party’s last election manifesto.

Police Scotland is under pressure to lower headcount to reduce its budget deficit, but last month postponed a decision to cut 300 officer posts, a move which would have saved the force £12.6 million.

Figures published today showed a 0.2 per cent rise in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) officers in the last quarter of 2018.

But the figure of 17,175 represents a 0.5 per cent fall (81 FTE officers) from December 2017.

Labour said there were now 321 fewer officers than under the previous eight regional forces.

Justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “Communities across Scotland are seeing their local police presence disappear under the SNP.

“Labour backed the merger in 2013 but laid out plans to protect local policing.

“SNP justice secretary Humza Yousaf must explain to parliament and the public how these cuts can be acceptable in the face of rising crime in Scotland, and why he has failed to secure the additional funding that Police Scotland has made clear is needed urgently to prevent further cuts.

“Labour understands that you can’t keep communities safe on the cheap, and that is why we would properly resource our police force in government to keep the public safe.”

Mr Yousaf said: “Police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly above the level in 2007, with an increase of over 900 since March 2007. This contrasts with a reduction of almost 20,000 officers in England and Wales.

“Scotland’s single police service means communities across the country now benefit from specialist national and regional expertise. This includes police officers and staff in various divisions who are deployed across Scotland when local needs arise.

“We are carefully considering the implications of leaving the EU and intensive preparation is underway, including work with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, who are responsible for operational policing decisions.

“We remain committed to protecting the police revenue budget in real terms in every year of this Parliament, delivering an additional £100 million over that period. However, the UK government’s chaotic approach to Brexit remains a significant threat to our public services.”

He added: “We are clear that any costs related to EU exit should not have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s public finances and should be met by the UK Government in full.”