Police officers are filling vacancies left by redundant or retired civilian support staff on a daily basis, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has told MSPs.
He insisted there was no official policy to use front-line officers to replace the hundreds of staff leaving under Police Scotland’s cost-cutting drive, but confirmed that it does happen.
Appearing in front of the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, Sir Stephen said: “To be clear, we do not have a policy or strategy to backfill support staff who leave with police officers. For accuracy, of course it happens on a daily ongoing basis, but it’s not part of a plan.”
Sir Stephen also rejected suggestions of a power struggle between himself and the Scottish Police Authority or a personality clash with SPA chairman Vic Emery.
He acknowledged there had been issues about “who’s leading this and who’s leading that?” But he said: “It’s been constructive tension in terms of, we want to do the best job that we possibly can.”
Mr Emery said relationships were “good and getting better”.
The SPA chairman was also quizzed on his year in charge, during which the authority has had three directors of finance and two interim chief executives.
Committee convener Hugh Henry said: “You are supposed to be holding Police Scotland to account and working with them, but you have had a merry-go-round of senior officials. That hardly leads to stability or continuity.”
The merger of Scotland’s eight former forces into a single police service is intended to save £1.1 billion by 2026.
A recent report by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland said it was unclear how the police force would find the expected savings. And the SPA has said the government’s commitment to retaining 1000 extra officers and its policy of no compulsory redundancies made the necessary cost-cutting “hugely challenging”.
Mr Emery said 2000 applications for voluntary redundancy had been received from the 7500 police staff roll, with 330 from control rooms.
But most of the control-room staff had been told they could not leave until new digital control rooms are built.
The location and configuration of control rooms still had to be agreed, he added.
Sir Stephen insisted he was confident that the requested savings could be achieved and said he was focusing on “non-people” solutions.
He added: “There is a general oversimplification of how we are going to achieve these savings.
Everyone says we can’t reduce the number of police officers, therefore it’s going to have to be police staff.
We will be looking, quite clearly, at the nearly 7500 police staff and looking to make sure we are as efficient as we can in making use of that.
“We have no compulsory redundancies – it’s voluntary and retirement – but the misunderstanding is that all our savings are predicated on staff.
“They are a big chunk of the budget at 65 per cent police officer and 20 per cent or more in staff, but there are still other percentages in there, and we are looking as heavily as we can at non-people to try and find savings there.”