There needs to be a root and branch look at Police Scotland’s budget next year. We can no longer paper over the cracks caused by badly managed centralisation.
Police Scotland’s finances got off to a poor start when the hastily drafted outline business case was never followed through to a full business case as Audit Scotland confirmed. As a consequence there remain unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. This is illustrated by a £25m (and rising) budgetary black-hole in the 2015/16 budget.
IT systems that are crucial to reform have suffered from delays and overspend. Getting systems right is not just about cost and efficiency, as the M9 tragedy showed. The HMICS report has taken into account the high level of pressure that UNISON police staff members work under in the Contact, Command and Control (C3) division of Police Scotland. Let’s hope this report shapes the C3 direction with greater accountability and assurances for the public.
The findings of the Police Scotland staff survey are a stark reminder of the impact reform has had on the workforce. A committed and dedicated workforce has become increasingly demoralised and overworked with the perception that the organisation they work for doesn’t care and won’t invest in their health, safety and wellbeing. Only 8% of staff thought the organisation was genuinely interested in staff wellbeing.
Police reform was meant to identify efficiencies through reductions in duplication of posts. However, proposals are purely designed to reduce budgets, not reduce duplication. Through the pursuit of an agenda of centralisation, we have seen the closure of mainly local service provisions such as; station front counters, call-handling, control rooms and custody. This has resulted in police staff who come from and are stakeholders in the communities they serve, being sacrificed to maintain police officer numbers at an artificially high number.
There has still been no indication that detailed work has been carried out to establish the number of officers required to police Scotland. The previous Chair of the SPA announced that this work was to go ahead shortly after his appointment, but we are still waiting. Nor has any work been carried out to establish how effective this figure is in maintaining low crime figures. Police Scotland has a statutory duty to abide by Best Value principles and a proper study is long overdue.
Significant numbers of police officers are now performing roles which can and should be performed by police staff at a fraction of the cost. Recent figures show that there may be a gap of approximately 7,000 police officers who are not frontline when compared to the 17,261 officer strength figure quoted by the SPA.
As Dr Kath Murray, from Edinburgh University, puts it: “Unlike England and Wales, data is not available on rank or officer function. There is no data on officers available for duty, nor the numbers that join or leave the force. Meanwhile, the published totals include officers on maternity leave, long-term sick leave and on secondment. The net result is that officer strength in Scotland cannot be openly scrutinised or analysed.”
The decision to employ 1000 extra Police Officers was taken pre-austerity and there is now widespread support to review this figure. For example, the Police Superintendents (APSE) has said: “There is clearly some significant budget pressure and challenges ahead. We would like to see an intelligent conversation to consider all of the options. Included within that would absolutely be whether the lock-in on 1,000 additional officers remains the right policy, or whether it’s time to review that and look at more of a mixed staffing model.
It is now time to look closely at the total workforce requirement of Police Scotland to ensure a balanced workforce; the correct types of Staff or Officers carrying out roles appropriate to their qualifications and needs of the organisation.
I would also agree with colleagues in the Scottish Police Federation that the Scottish Government would be foolish to continue with its programme of police cuts in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. This is only one of many additional burdens being placed on Police Scotland.
The unique and major flaw in police reform has been the cosmetic police officer number target that should have corrected when Police Scotland was created. This flaw does not allow management to make the right Best Value decisions to create an effective, efficient, modern police force for Scotland. It’s time to change course or it will only get worse.