by Stefan Morks
The Scottish Government has denied it is artificially maintaining police numbers be taking officers off the beat to do work formerly done by support staff.
Scotland’s eight police forces are to be merged into a single organization, a move the Scottish Government says is necessary to maintain officers numbers and save £1.7 billion over the next 15 years.
The SNP pledged in 2007 to boost police numbers by 1,000. However, critics claim trained police officers are being asked to carry out the duties of support staff rather than going on the beat, even though they earn twice as much.
Reform Scotland claims that although there are more police officers today than there were in 2007, this is undermined by the number of civilian support staff jobs that have been lost.
According to the think tank, the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) police officers in Scotland rose by 897.6 between 2006/07 and 2010/11. However, over the same period the number of police staff fell by 899.6.
“The figures suggest that police officers must now be carrying out duties which were previously civilianised and at a higher cost,” the report states.
In Tayside the number of FTE police officers has gone up between 2006/07 and 2010/00, from 1,163.14 to 1,237.63. Conversely, the number of civilian support staff fell from 635.97 to 549.91. Overall there has been a net loss of six positions.
Police officers numbers in Fife went up from 1,057 to 1,112 between 2006/7 and 2010/11. Support staff numbers dropped from 523 to 464, a net loss of four positions.
The think-tank has submitted its findings to the Scottish Government as part of its response to the public consultation on merging Scotland’s police forces.
The report concluded: “Reform Scotland is not commenting on whether the strategy of cutting police staff to allow the 1,000 police officers target to be maintained is right or wrong. However, we are calling on the Scottish government to be more open and transparent with regard to current policies on policing.
“If a single police force is to be created to save money, why is another policy within policing being pursued which could be argued to be less cost-effective?”
George McIrvine, who represents Tayside Police support staff for the union Unison, said: “We have already lost 90 posts and there will be another 30 to 50 going after another redundancy trawl was approved at the last board meeting.
“Once these posts go they need someone to fill the void. Document services, wildlife liaison officers and firearms inquiries were civilian roles but now people have gone through redundancy they are filled by police officers.”
Scottish Labour justice spokesman James Kelly said: “It’s all very well for the SNP to keep claiming they’ve increased the number of police officers by 1,000 but if these officers are having to be used doing jobs previously done by civilian staff it completely defeats the purpose.”
The Scottish Government said the report ignored people employed by support agencies and that officers are not being asked to perform civilian duties.
A spokeswoman said: “Reform Scotland’s figures are wrong. They do not include the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) or the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.
“Hundreds of police staff transferred to the SPSA in April 2007 and in April 2008. The latest figures show that there are 7,103 police support staff in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government has recruited to deliver 1,000 additional police officers on the streets and communities of Scotland.
“There is no evidence to suggest that police officers are carrying out civilian duties.”