LABOUR has accused the Scottish Government of being “in denial” about the consequences of its cuts to police budgets.
The party said senior civil servants had failed to acknowledge cuts to the numbers of civilian staff were leading to police officers regularly covering their duties.
Party chiefs have challenged Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to call a halt to the practice – known as “back- filling”.
The number of civilian staff employed by Police Scotland is being dramatically reduced – including the closure of many police stations to the public – as part of a drive to save £60 million this year and a similar amount next year.
But critics say it often means police officers – who are paid much higher salaries – end up doing back-office jobs instead of being out on the beat.
Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This is yet more evidence of the pressures on our police service. Trained officers are having to do the work of civilians on a regular basis. And on top of that the new year brings cuts in access to the police through counter closures.”
Police Scotland announced in October it planned to close the public counters at ten stations across Edinburgh and the Lothians used by more than 100,000 people a year. It has since dropped the proposals for South Queensferry, Linlithgow and Tranent and it is under pressure to scrap the other closure plans too.
Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, said officials had blatantly contradicted what Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House had told MSPs on backfilling.
When Sir Stephen gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee on November 20, he admitted backfilling occurred “on a daily and ongoing basis” within the police service.
However, civil servants told the same committee on December 18 that backfilling happened only “occasionally”.
When one senior official was asked about the contradiction, she claimed it was “semantics”.
But Mr Pearson said: “The evidence from senior civil servants working for Kenny MacAskill directly contradicts what the Chief Constable told us. Stephen House told us that police officers were routinely being used to backfill posts on a daily basis but then we were told that it was ‘occasional’, ‘not regular’, ‘not widespread’ and ‘it was time limited’. So who are we to believe?
“Hundreds of civilian jobs have gone so undoubtedly police officers have to fill in for certain tasks. Kenny MacAskill has said backfilling is not policy so he needs to tell us whether he will stop it from happening and allow police officers to do their day jobs.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There is no strategy to backfill staff jobs with officers.”