Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Time to look again at Police Scotland's budget

There needs to be a root and branch look at Police Scotland’sbudget next year. We can no longer paper over the cracks caused by badlymanaged centralisation.

Police Scotland’s finances got off to a poor start when thehastily drafted outline business case was never followed through to a fullbusiness case as Audit Scotland confirmed. As a consequence there remain unrealistic expectations of whatcan be achieved. This is illustrated by a £25m (and rising) budgetaryblack-hole in the 2015/16 budget.

IT systems that are crucial to reform have sufferedfrom delays and overspend. Getting systems right is not just about cost andefficiency, as the M9 tragedy showed. The HMICS report has taken into accountthe high level of pressure that UNISON police staff members work under in theContact, Command and Control (C3) division of Police Scotland. Let’s hope thisreport shapes the C3 direction with greater accountability and assurancesfor the public.

The findings of the Police Scotland staff survey are a starkreminder of the impact reform has had on the workforce. A committed anddedicated workforce has become increasingly demoralised and overworked with theperception that the organisation they work for doesn’t care and won’t invest intheir health, safety and wellbeing. Only8% of staff thought the organisation was genuinely interested in staff wellbeing.

Police reform was meant to identify efficiencies throughreductions in duplication of posts. However, proposals are purely designed to reducebudgets, not reduce duplication. Through the pursuit of an agenda ofcentralisation, we have seen the closure of mainly local service provisionssuch as; station front counters, call-handling, control rooms and custody. Thishas resulted in police staff who come from and are stakeholders in the communitiesthey serve, being sacrificed to maintain police officer numbers at anartificially high number.

There has still been no indication that detailed work hasbeen carried out to establish the number of officers required to policeScotland. The previous Chair of the SPA announced that this work was to goahead shortly after his appointment, but we are still waiting. Nor has any workbeen carried out to establish how effective this figure is in maintaining lowcrime figures. Police Scotland has a statutory duty to abide by Best Valueprinciples and a proper study is long overdue.

Significant numbers of police officers are now performingroles which can and should be performed by police staff at a fraction of thecost. Recent figures show that there may be a gap of approximately 7,000 policeofficers who are not frontline when compared to the 17,261 officer strengthfigure quoted by the SPA.

AsDr Kath Murray, from Edinburgh University, puts it: “Unlike England and Wales, data is not available on rank or officerfunction. There is no data on officers available for duty, nor the numbers thatjoin or leave the force. Meanwhile, the published totals include officers onmaternity leave, long-term sick leave and on secondment. The net result is thatofficer strength in Scotland cannot be openly scrutinised or analysed.”

The decision to employ 1000 extra Police Officers was takenpre-austerity and there is now widespread support to review this figure. Forexample, the Police Superintendents (ASPS) has said: “There is clearly some significant budget pressure andchallenges ahead. We would like to see an intelligent conversation to considerall of the options. Included within that would absolutely be whether thelock-in on 1,000 additional officers remains the right policy, or whether it’stime to review that and look at more of a mixed staffing model.

It is now time to look closely at the total workforce requirement of Police Scotland to ensurea balanced workforce; the correct types of Staff or Officers carrying out rolesappropriate to their qualifications and needs of the organisation.

I would also agree with colleagues in the Scottish PoliceFederation that the Scottish Governmentwould be foolish to continue with its programme of police cuts in the wake ofthe Paris terror attacks. This is only one of many additional burdens being placed on Police Scotland.

The unique and major flaw inpolice reform has been the cosmetic police officer number target that shouldhave corrected when Police Scotland was created. This flaw does not allowmanagement to make the right Best Value decisions to create an effective,efficient, modern police force for Scotland. It’s time to change course or itwill only get worse.