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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Police reform budget

I was in Parliament today giving evidence to the Justice Committee on the police reform budget.

My written evidence tells the sorry story of the half baked business case that wasn't even completed before Parliament passed the Police and Fire Reform Bill. Then the shambles over VAT liability, when Treasury officials had told the Government that if you organise police and fire this way, the Scottish taxpayer will pay the VAT.

This results in a major savings target that would be challenging enough. However, the Scottish Government has an arbitrary target to maintain police officer numbers at 17,234, therefore the cuts are concentrated on police staffs. Up to 3000 posts are likely to go with the gaps being filled by police officers. A recent survey indicates that up to 2000 police officers will be taken off operational duties, at least in part, to backfill the posts. So much for the promised 1000 extra police officers “on the streets”.

The latest ACPOS cuts proposals give us some indication of the numbers of posts and these are set out in some detail in my evidence.

Police staff A5 leaflet March 2012Some of these cuts (HR, finance and corporate services) are aimed at economies of scale created by one centralised police force. However, past experience of such savings is that they are rarely achieved and certainly not without passing the workload onto operational staff.

The vast majority of these job cuts can only be achieved by substituting police officers for the roles currently undertaken by police staffs. These include custody staff, front office, traffic wardens, licensing staff, clerical support, intelligence gathering, control room and forensic staff. This is already happening with police officers being drafted in, typically at twice the salary, to undertake these duties. 

At today's evidence session there was at least a greater recognition that backfilling is wrong. Although some senior officers are still turning a blind eye to what is happening on the ground. I would challenge any politician to just walk around any police headquarters and see how many police officers are there, not on the streets. A week does not go by without a member telling us of even more officers taken off operational roles to undertake police staff jobs.

Taking trained operational police officers off the streets to perform administrative or specialist tasks – at greater cost, is economic madness. It is also contrary to the Best Value provisions in the Act. This will return the police service in Scotland to almost the 1980‟s, with inefficient and outdated police practice. The Sweeney may be back on our cinema screens, but it isn't a model for a modern police force.

The sensible way forward should be to let the Scottish Police Authority and the Chief Constable decide the correct balance of police officers and police staff using Best Value principles. They should not be subject to a political direction that effectively restricts cuts to police staffs.


  1. I call on all MSP's to attend their local Police HQ and talk face to face with our members about the backfilling of posts by Police Officers that is already taking place throughout Scotland to cover the 1000+ staff already forced out the door under ER/VR schemes as well as vacant posts still not filled. The infrastructure of Scottish policing is cracking under this staffing crisis and senior management are papering over the cracks by bringing cops off the public streets at the same time pontificating publicly that this practice is not happening !! Come on MSP's get down to your local cop shop tomorrow to ascertain who is telling it as it is.

  2. They might also like to ask some questions about how crime stats are being manipulated to make it look like office based police officers are doing more than they actually are.

  3. Maybe a look at my new book and blog will be of some help: “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” (Amazon.com) and visit my blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com where I discuss even more issues facing those who police a democracy and how improvement can occur and be sustained!