CONTROVERSIAL plans to close police station counters could be just the beginning of swingeing cuts which will change the face of policing in Scotland, politicians warned today.
Police Scotland is having to slash £60 million from its £1 billion-plus budget this year and find a further £60m of savings next year.
Concerns have already been raised about the future of community policing because of the dramatic reductions in spending. Now there are fears other aspects of police work will also be axed, leaving officers concentrating almost exclusively on law enforcement.
The merging of Scotland’s eight former police forces into the new single service, Police Scotland, in April was intended to save £1.7bn over 15 years.
Rationalisation of headquarters buildings and functions were seen as obvious ways of saving cash, but the proposed counter closures and cutbacks – and a further review of police property expected soon which could lead to stations being shut and sold off – show how quickly cuts start to affect front-line policing.
The Scottish Government insists the priority is maintaining the extra 1000 officers delivered by the SNP, with police told numbers must not drop below 17,234.
But even the man in charge, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, has questioned whether that will be possible.
Earlier this year he was quoted as saying: “It’s absolutely possible to meet the budget — it just depends what the constraints are. I don’t think personally it will be possible unless we’re allowed to reduce the number of police officers.”
Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said reductions in police civilian staff had left gaps which police officers were having to fill.
He said: “There have been 1200 staff jobs lost over the last 18 months. These were people involved in important work like intelligence analysis, warrants management, updating cases, case reviews. The notion that now they have gone no police officers will be taken off the beat to do the work is not credible.”
He believes the SNP’s 1000 extra officers cannot survive the financial pressures coming down the track. He said: “Eventually there will be no more cuts to be delivered in the back office and they will have to look at police officers. It is irresponsible of a government not to be honest about the kind of challenges we face and forthcoming about the options.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes sees the current proposals on closure of police counters as a warning of what is to come.
She said: “There was never a full business case for the single police force. They have significant savings to make and they need to make them very quickly. These are short-term decisions, done in a rush, without proper consultation.”
She said another 140 civilian staff jobs across Scotland would go as a result of the counter closures and cutbacks.
“I fear we will increasingly see the police withdraw into an enforcement role and when everyone has been trying to get agencies to work together on early intervention in problems. That’s very damaging for the community.”
Lesley Hinds, former convener of Lothian and Borders police board, also voiced fears.
She said: “Cutting back the public-facing part of the police operation is concerning and I hope Police Scotland will listen to the views of the community and councillors.”
Police Scotland insisted local policing was at the heart of the single service.
A spokesman said: “Every aspect of our operation is being scrutinised to ensure the chief constable can continue to deliver policing on budget. All non-staff costs are being considered however there is significant effort around how we reducing staffing costs which will see fewer people working in the organisation. Police Scotland remains committed to the government pledge of maintaining 17,234 officers.”
How you can help
Back the campaign by displaying a poster and signing the petition, which is already available to sign at several locations including:
• The Mill at St Joseph’s, the cafe beside Balerno Parish Church;
• Balerno Garage Ltd, Deanpark Brae;
• Sideburns Barber Shop, Oxgangs Broadway, Oxgangs;
• Craigmillar Post Office, Niddrie Mains Road.
To receive a petition and poster e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131-620 8733, or call into the offices at 108 Holyrood Road.
Email the following to SoS@edinburghnews.com along with your name and address
“Dear Sir Stephen House,
I want my local police station to stay open to the public. Please think again.”