Edinburgh council could axe £2.6 million funding for city's police

Labour councillor says authority cannot afford to keep paying contribution

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 7:10 am

EDINBURGH’S ruling coalition is preparing to withdraw all council funding for extra police officers in the Capital.

The controversial move to end the annual £2.1 million contribution to Police Scotland is one of the cuts expected to be made by the SNP-Labour administration as it searches for savings to make ends meet next year.

The plan to axe the funding - which pays for additional community-based officers in the Capital - has been floated before and rejected - although the council’s policing contribution was reduced by £500,000 last year.

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The council cash is supposed to finance extra officers, but critics claim Edinburgh does not get its fair share of personnel despite the additional contribution

But it is understood the promise by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recruit extra police in England, which means extra funding coming to Scotland, has encouraged council chiefs to believe Police Scotland will be receiving a budget boost and the council could now reasonably withdraw its financial input.

One source said: “It looks as if it’s going ahead this time. The only argument is whether to remove it all in 2020/21 or whether to cut £1.6m in 2020/21 and the remaining £500,000 the following year.”

Edinburgh contributes more to policing than any other local authority in Scotland and many councils have already pulled such funding altogether.

During last year’s search for budget reductions, council officials put forward an option for a two-year withdrawal of funding which they said would “reflect the general trend across Scotland” and “be consistent with the principle that Police Scotland is the responsibility of central government”.

But the administration ruled out scrapping the contribution completely and opted instead for the £500,000 cut.

The source said: “The SNP in particular was always reluctant to withdraw the funding.

“What has changed now is that Boris Johnson is going to spend extra money on police officers in England, so money will come to Scotland as part of the Barnett consequentials and politically the Scottish Government will be forced to pass it on in its entirety to Police Scotland, so the feeling is this is the time to cut our money.”

The £2.6 million which Edinburgh previously gave to Police Scotland was to fund 54 additional community-based officers.

But Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro, a long-standing critic of the council funding of the police, said he did not believe withdrawing the contribution would affect policing levels in the Capital.

He said: “This is a high-tariff cost we cannot afford. The position I have been advocating for several years is one that has to be taken. I think there is no option.

“We should never have been paying this money. There is no evidence we get what we pay for. You’re talking about a subsidy from Edinburgh more than ten times what anyone else is doing.”

And there has been criticism of the police funding from some opposition councillors too.

Tory Jim Campbell has produced figures showing a large drop in police officers per head of population in Edinburgh compared with other parts of Scotland since the formation of the single national force despite the council’s contribution.

In 2013, when the previous eight forces were merged to create Police Scotland, Edinburgh had 1180 police offices, but by 2017 the number was down to 1155. Cllr Campbell calculated that as a fall from 24.21 per 10,000 citizens to 22.5 - a drop of 7.07 per cent. Only the neighbouring division, covering the rest of the former Lothian and the Borders force, fared worse with a 7.3 per cent fall in officers per head.

Greater Glasgow saw a 6.8 per cent fall over the same period, but still had 36 officers per 10,000 citizens.

Cllr Campbell said at the time: “There doesn’t seem to be much evidence the council’s £2.6m is delivering a commitment to close the gap, which is what we’re looking for.

“We don’t have to pay that money. Whatever basic services are needed should be provided by the police out of central funding.

“Given that most local authorities no longer fund the police, it is doubly insulting we are still funding them and we have such a poor number of police per head of population. It’s not acceptable.”

The police, in response, said they were satisfied the number of officers serving in Edinburgh reflected the current requirement based on operational demand.

They also said in addition to officers posted specifically within Edinburgh, officers from other departments were also based here.

And they said the benefit to a single force is that all divisions could call on assistance and support from specialist colleagues when required.

When a cut to the funding was being discussed last year, Chief Inspector David Robertson told the new defunct south east locality committee a reduction of funding would change how services, such as school link officers, family household support officers and community policing, were delivered in future.

He said: “Any reduction in funding would absolutely have an impact. The majority of the visible problem-solving policing is delivered by our community policing officers - a large proportion of which are funded [by the council].”

Police chiefs told councillors the £500,000 cut could mean the loss of nine of officers.

Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair, Edinburgh’s then police commander, said: “It would be a bit more challenging to tackle some of the significant issues in Edinburgh - such as operations for motorcycle thefts and Operation Moonbeam around Bonfire Night. Our proposal is for four less family and household support officers and five less community police officers.”

The council is expected to set a budget next month, though the general election has delayed announcements on central government funding.

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin confirmed the withdrawal of funding for the police was under consideration.

He said: “It is something which has been considered in previous years and it is one of many proposals that have been put forward by officers that we’ve been looking at.”