Edinburgh council could scrap £2.6m funding for community police officers

Police Scotland says officers paid for by the council carry out an essential service across the city. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Police Scotland says officers paid for by the council carry out an essential service across the city. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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COUNCIL funding for community police officers could be ended as part of worse-than-expected budget cuts required to balance the books.

The council currently gives the police £2.6 million a year to pay for 54 additional community-based officers in the Capital.

But with a gap of £47m to bridge following the announcement of Scottish Government cash for Edinburgh next year, it is being argued that funding the police is the government’s responsibility rather than the council’s.

Edinburgh contributes more to policing than any other authority in Scotland and many have withdrawn such funding altogether.

A proposal drawn up by council officials and now being considered by councillors in the SNP-Labour coalition says the £2.6m funding could cease altogether from the new financial year in April or be phased out over a two-year period. And it said ending funding would “reflect the general trend across Scotland” and “be consistent with the principle that Police Scotland is the responsibility of central 
government”.

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But on the likely impact of the move, the officials say: “From discussions with Police Scotland this would likely result in a reduction in community policing across Edinburgh; however there would be a duty for Police Scotland to maintain community policing at a similar level to other cities in order to manage disorder and offending.”

And under the heading “Further consideration” the proposal says: “Reputational risks associated with increases in crime and antisocial behaviour. Long-term impact on communities due to issues not being resolved quickly.”

Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro, who has spoken out against the police funding before, said: “When Police Scotland was set up we were told it would be able to stand on its own two feet, but it has a subsidy from the council of £3.5m – the £2.6m for community officers, £825,000 for CCTV and £300,000 for the night noise team.

“I think it should go. It has been an indulgence and there is no evidence we’ve had value for money.”

Last year, Tory councillor Jim Campbell produced figures showing the Capital had seen one of the biggest drops in police officers per head of population anywhere in Scotland since the formation of the single national force despite the council’s £2.6m funding. A council spokesman said it was important to stress a change in police funding was only a draft budget proposal at this 
stage.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Our council-funded police officers carry out an essential service across the Capital as it continues to both expand and attract additional visitors.

“The officers carry out an extremely important role in delivering visibility and reassurance across every area of the city.

“These officers are utilised to investigate a range of crimes that occur within our communities, as well as providing engagement and liaison with local residents, businesses and elected members.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com