COUNCIL taxpayers in Edinburgh contribute more for local policing than anywhere else in Scotland, yet the number of officers in the Capital is being cut and sits below the Scottish average.
Talks are currently under way over the city council’s annual £2.6 million payment to Police Scotland. But concerns are being voiced about policing levels here compared with other parts of the country and a fall in local police numbers despite the investment.
Tory councillor Jim Campbell says: “Edinburgh seems to have had a raw deal over the number of local police officers.
“We have been putting in £2.6m a year for some time. But the latest figures show we have under 23 officers per 10,000 population compared with Glasgow, which has 37.5 officers per 10,000 population. That’s quite a stark difference.
“Glasgow used to contribute £3.2m. It now puts in nothing. Where is the justice? Edinburgh has about the fastest growing population in Scotland. Yet our share of local policing has declined.”
Police Scotland receives most of its funding direct from the Scottish Government but many local authorities choose to make top up payments to provide additional local officers.
Cllr Campbell, who represents Forth ward, says between the formation of Police Scotland in 2013 and publication of the most recent council area data for 2016, Edinburgh’s population has risen by over four per cent against an average growth for other Scottish council areas of 1.18 per cent. Over the same period, the number of local police officers deployed in Edinburgh has declined by 1.74 per cent – a reduction more than double the average for the rest of Scotland.
The Capital now has 55 fewer local police officers than its ‘fair share’ of the Scottish total based on population. It is argued that police officers are allocated across the country on the basis of need rather than purely population.
But Cllr Campbell says: “The point of the council contribution is that we are getting resources over and above what would be dictated by policing need. If all we are getting is what they think we need, why are we paying more money for that?”
Among outspoken critics of the situation is Labour Leith councillor Gordon Munro who said the city council paid more than 10 times more than any other local authority to Police Scotland to secure extra services. “Even Al Capone did not charge this rate for protection services,” he said.
“And what service do we receive for this generous donation to this loss-making service. Increased police numbers? No. In 2014 there were 1167 officers in Edinburgh and in 2017 there are 1163. In the region in 2014 there were 973 officers and there are now 934. That’s a total of 43 fewer officers. So the myth it pays for extra officers is scotched by the figures from the annual audit of the force by Audit Scotland.
“Does it pay for a better service? No. When Police Scotland was formed the housebreaking team was dissolved, despite its proven track record, leading to an increase in this crime. Does it mean our stations are manned? Well, no actually – 53 out of 375 stations in Scotland are unmanned and some can be found in Edinburgh.
“However our generous contribution could help pay for the generous relocation costs to the Deputy Chief Constable, including tax and NIC, of £120,000 – or the £345,000 paid to two of their operational directors or even the £199,500 paid to the interim chief finance office, payments which Audit Scotland said ‘do not represent a good use of public money’.”
Edinburgh’s current agreement with Police Scotland is for 53 additional officers – two for each of the 17 wards; 12 who are allocated to Family Household and Support services, split between the council’s four “localities”; one youth justice sergeant; and six officers allocated to deal with city centre pressures.
Labour backbencher Scott Arthur said the council should be pressing the Scottish Government and the police authorities to invest more in Edinburgh. He said: “Despite spending ten times more than any other local authority in Scotland on policing, crime in our city remains 31 per cent higher than the national average. We’ve got the fourth highest crime rate of any local authority in Scotland.”
Tory councillor and former police officer Cameron Rose said the only reason Edinburgh was paying for additional officers was “the inequitable distribution of police officers around Scotland”.
And fellow Conservative Joanna Mowat added her voice to the concern.
She said: “One of the reasons we continued to pay this when Glasgow stopped was we essentially had a gun held to our heads by the police, saying we would lose those additional officers if we took that funding away. That is not about policing by need. Our violent crime rate unfortunately is increasing.
“It is very difficult to say the core service we are receiving is equitable.”
As well as Glasgow’s decision to scrap its contribution to local policing, other councils have also cut police funding. East Lothian reduced its funding for additional officers from £518,000 in 2012/13 to £100,000 in 2017/18. West Lothian proposes complete removal of its current £700,000 of additional officer funding in its approved budget plan for the period up to 2022/23.
Midlothian Council, while previously approving a phased reduction of its additional officer funding in April 2017, has now agreed to reinstate the £500,000 contribution from 2018/19. Fife has cut all its funding for extra officers, having previously provided £430,000 in 2012/13.
Council chiefs including council leader Adam McVey have been holding talks with Edinburgh police commander Temporary Chief Superintendent Richard Thomas and other senior police representatives to thrash out a new agreement.
Cllr McVey hopes a deal can be reached within the next few weeks, adding: “We are trying to get some really robust measurements into the agreement.
“It’s clear about what we expect – like delivering additional community officers and implementation of 20mph – but now we want to make sure it is all properly measured so we know every penny is being spent on the things we ask for.
“We need to have it all accounted for, so when we have a community officer we look at what that officer is actually costing and there might be a way of getting more than we expect – if one of the officers was fewer years in the force, the salary might be less, for example. We want to make sure we’re getting bang for our bucks.”
On the question of why the Capital was paying more but getting fewer police, he said: “We’re paying for what we’re paying for. The police will decide what they want in terms of their core policing. We are paying for extra.
“The officers we fund must be additional. They are not there to supplement the national force to allow them to deploy officers elsewhere. They are there to be additional officers for the capital city.”
He is optimistic about a deal. “I think the police are open to a new model that has more monitoring and reporting in its daily operation.
“They are up for a new process that would say if one of our community officers gets pulled onto other duties that’s a day we’ve paid for and need back and some way of balancing that will be included.”
Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said: “Police Scotland Officers are not allocated to areas purely based on population. Work is currently ongoing to examine demand and resource in every part of the country.
“Where funding is removed by a local authority then resources are removed from that division, as has already occurred elsewhere.”