by Alan Roden
Scotland’s police chiefs have spent more than £34million on overtime payments as officers are forced behind desks to cope with staff cuts.
Hundreds of civilian posts have been axed, exposing the reality of the SNP’s boasts that more police are keeping the streets safer.
A new report from the think-tank Reform Scotland warns that police officers ‘must now be carrying our duties which were previously civilianised and at a higher cost’.
The findings come as seperate figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that officers recieved up to £20,700 in overtime payments. The country’s biggest force, Strathclyde, paid nearly £15million in overtime to officers.
Tory justice spokesman David McLetchie said: ‘If it were to emerge that new police officers were being recruited solely to fill office jobs vacated by civilian staff, this would be a matter of great concern.
“The priority must always be to have more bobbies on the beat, not behind desks.”
Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes said: “Civilian staff play an important role in helping to keep frontline police staff out on the streets protecting communities.
“A reduction in numbers could lead to Scotland’s visible police force being slowly eroded.” The figures show constables and sergeants recieved an average of £26 per hour for overtime. The Strthclyde force spent £14.5million on overtime with £15,426 going to one sergeant who clocked up the most hours.
Lothian & Borders was teh second biggest spender, with an overtime bill of £6.9million. It also paid out the most to a single officer after a police sergeant claimed £20,738 for 644 hours.
In third spot was Grampian, which spent £2.6million, including £16,087 to one sergeant.
The overtime bill for all Scottish police forces totalled £34.3million.
The SNP came to power in 2007 with a manifesto pledge to put 1,000 extra police on teh beat. But a spokesman for the union Unison said: “It is undeniable that across Scotland police staff are being made redumdant and their jobs done by uniformed officers.
“People was police on the beat – not being used as a very expensive substitute for non-uniformed staff. There isn’t any doubt that this peverse, and very poor value for money policy, is driven by the political target of maintaining an extra 1,000 officers.”
Governmen figures show that there were 17,263 full-time equivalent officers in March this year – 1,029 more than in March 2007.
However, the total includes those on secondment or in the central service.
According to figures published today by Reform Scotland, there were 16,917 force-based officers at the end of 2010/11 – 898 more than in 2006/07. But over the same period, 900 civilian staff were axed, according to the think-tank.
The situation has worsened since the start of the year, with seperate data from the Lib Dems showing a loss of 566 civilian jobs between spring and summer 2010 and spring and summer 2011. That puts the estimated total number of backroom police workers at 5,781 – 1,273 fewer than in 2006/07.
Alison Payne, research director at Reform Scotland, said: “The figures suggest that police officers are having to carry out duties previously done by support staff, which cannot be an effective use of resources.
“Officers are likely to be more effective and provide better value for money if they are out on the streets deterring and detecting crime rather than being stuck behind desks.”
But Les Gray of the Scottish Police Federation insisted that overtime payments had already been slashed and blamed ‘wasted hours’ spent on unnecessary court appearances.
The Scottish Government wants to merge the country’s eight police forces into one – saving an estimated £1.7billion over 15 years.
“A Scottish spokesman said: “Reform will protect and improve local services – despite financial cuts by the Westminster government – by stopping duplication of support services eight times over and not cutting the frontline.
“Reform will ensure resources are focussed on the frontline, not unnecessary and costly duplication across the current eight police forces.”