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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.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Best Value policing

Last night we held an event in the Scottish Parliament for Police Staffs. The main purpose was to present the report by Stewart Research on Police Civilianisation in Scotland.

This report sets out the role of police staffs in Scotland and how it has developed over the years in response to the changing police landscape. Partly in response to the need for a more cost effective service, but also to improve productivity. Police Staffs bring specialist skills to the police in corporate roles, administrative support and in operational roles. The functions that a police officers generic training does not cover.

The statistical aspects of the report chart the reduction in numbers of police staffs as their roles are taken over by police officers, often at twice the cost. It also draws comparisons with the position in England and Wales where police staffs constitute 34% of the police workforce compared to 24% in Scotland and falling. There are also significant regional variations within Scotland. This all means that Scotland has the most inefficient police forces in the UK. If the current plans are implemented police staffs could fall to as low as 18% of the force, taking it back to the 1970s.

To this outdated police culture we now have absurd political targets for maintaining police numbers. A target that is being met by substituting police staffs by police officers, taking them off their proper operational roles. The new national police force that starts this April has been lumbered with these targets and that means the Chief Constable is not able to decide on the right balance of roles in the new force.

At the meeting we also emphasised the statutory Best Value duty on the Scottish Police Authority and the Chief Constable. A duty that it will simply be impossible to meet because the political target for police officer numbers is self evidently incompatible with this duty.

The position is not helped by the confusion in roles between the SPA and the Chief Constable. My colleagues George McIrvine and Gerry Crawley gave several examples of the problems this is causing. Police staffs are being left in limbo with the new force coming into existence in only a few weeks time.

UNISON Scotland has run many events at the Scottish Parliament over the years. This was undoubtably one of the very best. Not only did we have a well researched case, but those arguments were supported by around 50 police staff who attended the event. They gave a powerful personal  testimony to the chaos this policy is causing across Scotland. A significant number of MSP's attended the event including most members of the Justice Committee. They were clearly shocked at what they heard and I understand the issues were followed up at First Ministers Questions today.

There are two key actions the Scottish Government needs to take. Firstly, make it clear to the SPA that they are a scrutiny body, not a service delivery organisation. Secondly, drop the political interference over police numbers and allow the Chief Constable to decide on a balance staffing structure. That will enable him to meet his statutory duty of Best Value and deliver a police service that we can all be proud of.


  1. I had never been to the Scottish Parliament before so this event was really interesting. You are so right about back to the seventies!

  2. Thanks. I recall the first time I represented a police staff member in I think the late 1970s. It was a CID dept and she was brought in to sort out the admin. Lots of skilled detectives catching crooks, but prosecutions collapsed because the administration was chaotic. Lots of police typing with one finger, unable to do basic administration. She sorted it out but her 'assistant' was a succession of Inspectors. That's where we are heading back to unless the Scottish Government changes course!