School police officers face axe in budget cuts

School link officer Pc Jim Gallanders addresses a classroom of pupils at Firrhill High School. Picture: Julie Bull
School link officer Pc Jim Gallanders addresses a classroom of pupils at Firrhill High School. Picture: Julie Bull
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POLICE officers who protect school pupils face the axe under plans to slash up to £500,000 from community safety budgets.

The Evening News understands the savings have been lined up as part of a wider £1.5 million cuts package aimed at police, housing support and community groups.

School liaison officers – whose duties include patrolling campuses, bullying prevention and tackling antisocial behaviour – are among services at risk in the council’s 2015-16 budget.

Police sources have indicated violence reduction teams, frontline community policing and specialist staff offering road- safety training to young drivers may also be scrapped.

The budget proposals come only months after a similar plan was reversed thanks to a deal which saw police commit to providing road-safety classes in schools.

It is understood the saving covers council grants to police which total £2.6m and funds 44 community constables and 12 city centre officers.

It is not clear how much savings are being sought through cuts to homeless hostel budgets.

Critics today voiced concern over the fresh assault on community police funding, stressing that school liaison officers make a vital contribution to 
pupils’ safety and welfare. Naomi Crowley, parent council member at Broughton High, said: “I’d be worried if we were to lose our school Pc – he’s a very valuable member of the school community.

“He works ­really well with the kids on a day-to-day basis – he’s like a cross between a police ­officer and a social worker, and he’s available for the kids if they need someone to talk to.

“If there were issues with violence and antisocial behaviour, or if something was ­happening outside the school grounds, he’d deal with that.”

A former senior police officer said a vital service could be lost. He said: “School liaison officers mean good relationships are formed between young people and the ­police, and that’s incredibly important for the future.”

Opposition politicians said it was frustrating to learn cuts could be in the pipeline so soon after recent agreements to secure police funding.

Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat said: “There’s just been an agreement to have a new service level agreement with the police, so to have cuts in the grant would have to form part of the SLA.

“There would have to be a conversation about what that would mean and what impact that would have. In terms of what we have traditionally spent the extra money on – policing the night-time economy and so on – there doesn’t seem to have been a decrease in incidence there, so it’s not something we could countenance a reduction on but obviously there would have to be further discussion.”

Police chiefs said community safety officers were vital to the city’s status as one of Britain’s most trouble-free 
areas.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said: “I am proud Edinburgh was recently voted the safest city in the UK and there is no doubt police officers funded by the city council played a fundamental role in that.”