'Over-zealous' civil servants have doubled Police Scotland budget cuts

Civil servants have been ‘over-zealous’ in stripping out savings from Scotland’s police force – doubling cost saving targets set when Police Scotland was launched, a former police chief has claimed.

Police Scotland will see £2bn of budget cuts by 2026.
Police Scotland will see £2bn of budget cuts by 2026.

Writing in today’s Scotsman, former deputy chief constable Tom Wood says that when Police Scotland was set up seven years ago, the aim was to create just over £1 billion of savings by 2026. However, he claims that in reality, £2bn of savings will have been made by that date.

The country’s eight regional police forces were merged to form Police Scotland in 2013.

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He says: “The problem is rooted way back in the 2013 formation of Police Scotland. One of the drivers of that reform was cost-savings. It was planned to strip out over £1 billion from the overall budget by 2026.

​”​Bad enough, but over the first seven years of this plan, our civil servants have been over-zealous. On the current trajectory, by 2026, the overall police budget will have been reduced by over £2 billion.”

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He adds: “Operational independence is central to our policing model. But, as it stands Police Scotland cannot live within its budget. This year there will be a deficit of £44 million and to cover this overspend requires an annual ‘cap in hand’ visit to St Andrews House. It is not a situation conducive to long-term planning or true independence.

“We rightly expect much of our police service and when they fail they must be held to account. But in return they deserve a workable financial settlement that allows them to do their duty without fear or favour."

A report published last month by Audit Scotland warned that officer cuts were needed to curb rising costs and spiralling budgets at The Scottish Police Authority, which funds Police Scotland and controls its governance.

Plans agreed in 2018 to cut 750 officers were put on hold due to the potential for a no-deal Brexit at a cost of £17m for 2019/20. Overall, the financial difficulties for the authority saw it overspend by £26.6m in 2019/20, with £32.9m provided by the Scottish Government to cover cashflow requirements.

This was worsened by a £15m financial black hole caused by understating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with £2.2m of additional costs attributed to coronavirus in March 2020 alone.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Scotland is well served by its police service, whose key role in keeping communities safe has been integral in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite constraints on Scotland’s public services through a decade of UK austerity, our investment in policing this year increased by £60 million to more than £1.2 billion. We have also given the SPA an additional £8.2 million to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the policing budget. Future policing requirements will be considered as part of the budget process. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland to consider options to address the challenge of financial sustainability.”

Police Scotland declined to comment, however chief constable Iain Livingstone said last month that he had a “very, very low tolerance for any risk around change or any reduction regarding the number of police officers we have in this country".

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