It would be fair to say that UNISON Scotland hasn't had a lot of good things to say about the Scottish Police Authority. It's nothing personal, but we felt that their role was confused in the legislation and their attempts to take over delivery functions were ill advised. However, in this post I am happy to give credit to the SPA Chair for clearly articulating what everyone in the service knows - Scotland's police should have a balanced workforce, not one driven by a cosmetic police officer target.
Vic Emery, chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), told a Holyrood conference that work was already underway on a scoping exercise to ascertain the number of police officers needed nationwide. A Scottish Government commitment not to let police officer numbers drop below 17,234 is predicated on an “arbitrary” target that needs to be reassessed.
“Over the years I have asked the question – ‘how many cops do we need?’ Senior police colleagues have always been honest enough to say ‘as many as you can give me’. However, I believe there is a general acceptance that there is an arbitrary element to how we have ended up at the figure of 17,234 officers.”
And he is not alone. Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House has previously questioned the long-term sustainability of the target given savings being asked of the single service.
The SPA chair insisted there was a need for a “balanced team” between police officers and police staff a point UNISON has consistently made since the target was announced. This has been reinforced since the creation of a national police force with a major savings target. The consequence has been police officers substituting for police staff at twice the cost while taking them away from operational duties.
Vic Emery also said, “I know that concerns have been raised about decivilianization and what is termed as backfilling. I think both terms are unhelpful because it suggests a huge and clear divide between what is ‘front line’ and ‘back office’. A transformed service means a service with the right people with the right skills and powers in the right places at the right time. The roles that are carried out by police officers and civilians are not etched in stone. They have evolved and will continue to evolve. But any study of the number of police officers we need, must also look at the balance between civilian and uniformed.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's defence is that this was a, "mandate we sought re-election for on in 2011 and remain committed to". This ignores the fact that the mandate predates the establishment of a national police force. This is the opportunity to change tack, not least because he, and the SPA, are also required by law to adopt Best Value. That duty trumps daft political posturing.
As the great John Maynard Keynes once said; "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?"