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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, 20 November 2012

Auditors highlight police staff cuts

A report published today by the Accounts Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (HMICS) highlights the appalling waste of resources inherent in a process that takes police officers off the streets to backfill police civilian staff at a greater cost. As we have warned many times, Best Value is being sacrificed to a cosmetic political target.

The Justice Committee report on the Police and Fire Reform Bill said:

“260. A large number of witnesses believe that there needs to be a balanced workforce, with duties being undertaken by the most appropriate person regardless of whether that be a police officer or a civilian member of staff.214 Mr Watson said—

“In five or six years, we will be sitting round a table like this with Audit Scotland, who will say that the situation is ridiculous because we are paying police officers, at great cost, to do jobs that they are not qualified to do. We should not wait until then. Let us take the opportunity of the establishment of a new police force to consider the right balance between police officers and civilians.”215

Well I was wrong in one respect. It only took HMICS and Audit Scotland a few months to point this out!

As the report says:

“112. Police staff numbers will continue to be put under pressure as forces face real-term budget cuts while trying to maintain police officer numbers at or above the Scottish Government’s minimum of 17,234. It is important that the Police Service of Scotland undertakes strategic workforce planning to ensure that it makes best use of its people resources in a sustainable way, with functions carried out by people with the right skills, knowledge and experience. There are some indications that police staff posts are being covered by police officers in the short term, but at a time of continued financial pressures there is a risk that this is not an efficient and sustainable use of resources if adopted longer term.

And of course we know that if the Scottish Government continues to direct the new Scottish Police Authority on police numbers, it will continue.

What is also new in this report is the focus on police overtime to cover police staff posts.

“110. The reduction in police staff numbers in 2011/12 has been accompanied by an increase in police staff overtime expenditure across Scotland. Between 2007/08 and 2010/11, the proportion of police staff overtime expenditure, as a proportion of the overall police staff salary budget, fell year-on-year from 3.0 to 1.4 per cent. However, during the last financial year overtime rose slightly to 1.7 per cent of the police staff payroll, with all but Fife Constabulary and Lothian and Borders police experiencing growing overtime expenditure during 2011/12. Decisions to cut police staff numbers to reduce costs must take into account any indirect additional costs when calculating the likely savings which can be realised.”

I have seen a report in one police area that states the costs of backfilling police officers into custody centres has already exceeded £250,000.

This report confirms not only that police officers are backfilling police staff jobs at greater cost, but expensive police overtime is increasing to plug the gaps. It also supports UNISON's call for strategic workforce planning to avoid this appalling waste of scarce resources. The SPA and Chief Constable must be allowed to apply the statutory duty of Best Value without political interference.

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