Looming budget constraints could be “catastrophic” for policing, the Scottish Government has been warned.
Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele urged justice secretary Humza Yousaf to “not go down the road” of cuts to officer numbers seen in England and Wales in 2010.
His plea to the justice minister was in response to fears raised by chief constable Iain Livingstone, who said the current officer numbers are “not sustainable”, with as many as 1,000 posts at risk.
Mr Steele said it would be “ironic in the extreme” if policing numbers in Scotland began to slip just as Boris Jonson pledged to recruit 20,000 police officers in England and Wales.
The plea comes the day after a fatal accident inquiry heard staffing levels may have contributed to the death of Mark Hutton in Dundee police custody.
Posting on social media, Mr Steele said that — aside from the death itself — the most “depressing element” of the tragedy was that custody staff had stopped asking for help when busy as they “never always got it”.
Aside the obvious tragedy of the death, the most depressing element of this story so far can be found in these words.
“We never always got it so we just ended up giving up and stopped asking – They knew how busy we were. We shouldn’t have had to ask.” https://t.co/KSH3mpKyew
— Calum Steele (@CalumA_Steele) October 29, 2019
The correspondence between Mr Steele and Mr Yousaf was released through freedom of information legislation and was sent in August.
In the letter, Mr Steele praised the Scottish Government’s actions to combat cuts to policing in the face of UK austerity. He also noted the prime minister’s recruitment pledge would simply restore numbers to pre-2010 levels, when the cuts began.
However, Mr Steele claims Scottish Government support is fading away.
He said: “It is notable that once triumphant language (on policing) that was a cornerstone of the Scottish Government’s messaging for its first eight years in power is now nowhere to be seen.”
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Mr Steele said the only conclusion he could make was the Scottish Government was set on a path ministers had been “such vocal critics” of in the past.
Mr Yousaf said he was proud of the SNP’s record on tackling crime.
He said: “In Scotland, we took bold and early action to keep our communities safe in spite of significant budget pressures.
“Officer numbers in Scotland continue to remain significantly above 2007 levels — in contrast to the reductions in England and Wales.”
Speaking to The Courier, Mr Steele said: “The chief constable has said in order to balance the books he will have to lose 750 officers next year.
“Politicians like to say it won’t happen until 2021, but the fact is we’re talking about the next financial year, which is 2020-21, so these cuts will start next year.
“Currently, local authorities directly fund around 300 officers but they have been withdrawing that commitment and that is falling on the police.
“That means, more than 1,000 posts are at risk.
“This would bring numbers down to 2007 levels. I will continue to make the case that this would be catastrophic in Scotland.
“One thing that sticks in the craw of of voters is hypocrisy in politicians.”
Mr Steele said it was too early to predict exactly what departments are likely to see job losses, but that “logically speaking” the brunt would be spread evenly.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers reject entirely this characterisation of policing in the SPF General Secretary’s letter. As the letter acknowledges, we chose reform over cuts with the creation of Police Scotland. Despite constraints on Scotland’s public services through a decade of UK austerity, policing services have been maintained and improved.
“Our revenue funding for policing is protected in 2019-20, with a £42.3 million increase, to take the annual policing budget above £1.2 billion. We also have more police officers in Scotland than at any time before 2007. In contrast, officer levels have dropped by 19,000 in England and Wales since 2007. If we had followed the same approach, there would be 2,154 fewer officers in Scotland instead of over 1,000 more.
“Also in September 2018, the SPA announced a 31-month, 6.5% police pay deal, described by the SPF as the greatest uplift to police pay for over 20 years. This compares to 2% for English and Welsh officers for 2018-19, an offer that ignored the Police Remuneration Review Body’s recommended 3%, followed by 2.5% for 2019-20.
“Our firm focus on prevention, responsive policing and local partnerships has had a positive impact on long-term crime trends with fewer victims and safer communities. Recorded crime across Scotland is 27% lower over the last decade.”