I was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee today on the budget.
Police boards face a real terms cut of at least six per cent and, as the Scottish Government say police numbers have to be maintained, the cuts will fall almost entirely on police (civilian) staff. Boards have correctly reported that, as a consequence, they will have to backfill civilian posts with police officers.
Police staff deliver a wide range of routine, complex and specialised functions that are central to modern day police forces, while allowing uniformed officers to concentrate on operational policing duties. Maintaining an additional 1,000 police officers in this budget is a purely cosmetic political exercise. In practice, even more police officers will be taken off the street to perform tasks they are unsuited or unqualified to do - at a huge additional cost to the taxpayer.
It would be a legitimate political objective to require 1000 additional operational staff on the street. But just to target police officers is economic madness.
Many forces in Scotland are already way behind in the efficient deployment of police staffs. In England, 39% of police personnel are civilians (32% excluding PCSOs), while in Scotland it has fallen to 26.5%. The best forces in Scotland have modernised to these levels: Dumfries & Galloway has 33% while outdated Strathclyde can only manage 25%. This means that efficient forces like Dumfries & Galloway will be dragged down to the levels of the worst; like Strathclyde who have large numbers of police officers behind a desk rather than fighting crime.
Last week in evidence to the Committee the Police Federation attacked the growth in HR staff. Well I would agree, in part. In Strathclyde Police the HR department used to have 6 police officers, now they have 13, not one of which has an HR qualification. The same force has 125 police officers in the control room. In the best forces all the control room staff are civilians trained to deliver this role.
Focusing cuts on police staffs will have serious implications for policing across Scotland and it is vital that we protect the ability to deliver our frontline services, rather than score expensive political points.