Almost 1,500 officers could go if police funding needs not met, force warns

Police Scotland has warned that officer numbers could drop by almost 1,500 and the force could move to a “reduced attendance model” nationwide if it does not receive almost £129 million in extra funding.

In a report due to go before the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) authority’s board on Thursday, it has asked for a £74.5 million increase in revenue funding, along with a £26.4 million boost in capital, £5 million in its reform budget and £22.6 million for voluntary redundancy and voluntary early retirement.

If the funding asks are not met, according to the Police Scotland’s chief financial officer James Gray, the force will have to look at cutting numbers.

In a review of the Scottish Government’s spending until the end of the parliamentary term, released last year by then finance secretary Kate Forbes, the SPA would have received a flat cash settlement, which would amount to a real terms cut in funding.

The report laid out the impact such a funding pledge would have on policing.

“Tactical, short-term measures would have to be taken to deliver maximum savings in 2024-25,” it said.

“This could see a reduction of up to 1,427 FTE (full time equivalent roles) by March 31 2025 which can only be achieved through a continuation of the officer recruitment pause throughout the entire duration of 2024-25, along with an extensive VR/VER (voluntary redundancy/voluntary early retirement) programme.

“The impact of flat cash could be minimised by implementing a pay freeze for 2024-25 but this would have further operational implications and would still require significant workforce reductions.”

The 1,427 officer cut would be equal to about 6.4% of officer numbers.

Required savings, the report said, would have to be found through “salami slicing” rather that “efficiency or organisational design”.

Flat cash, the force claimed, would result in “a reduction in visible local policing”, as well as “an inability to increase local policing resources and enhance visibility and public confidence” and “an inability to effectively keep people safe in the online space”.

Officers would also struggle to implement new legislation, to “augment national and local public protection services” in the face of increased reporting of sexual crimes and domestic abuse and “delays in attending calls for service and the nationwide adoption of a reduced attendance model”.

A pilot project has been launched in the north east of Scotland in which police officers do not investigate crimes where there is “no associated threat, risk, harm or vulnerability” and no lines of inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Policing is a priority for this Government, which is why, despite difficult financial circumstances due to UK Government austerity, we increased police funding by £80 million to £1.45 billion in 2023-24.

“There are 379 more officers than in 2007 and Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales.

“The Deputy First Minister said last week that the UK Government’s autumn statement delivered the worst case scenario for Scotland’s finances.

“Ministers are assessing the full implications of that statement as they develop a budget that meets the needs of the people of Scotland, in line with our missions of equality, community and opportunity.”

The request comes on the same day that Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee said funding for the criminal justice system in Scotland was “unsustainable” and cannot continue to withstand “marginal” budget increases.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: “The SNP Government has taken £2 billion out of Scottish policing over the past decade and officers are being pushed beyond breaking point.

“This document is the latest in a series of clear and ominous warnings that continued cuts are impacting on Police Scotland’s job of keeping people safe.”