Edinburgh pays price for police cuts as front desks reduce opening hours
PUBLIC counters at police stations across the Capital are open less and less as fears grow about more cuts in the force's budget.
Official figures show a dramatic increase over the past six months in the hours that station front desks are closed when they are meant to be open.
Police Scotland said counters could be shut due to staff sickness, annual leave or personnel being diverted to other work.
But the union representing police civilian staff blamed budget cuts and warned the situation was likely to get worse.
Police Scotland has to find savings totalling £1.1bn by 2026 and faces a revenue budget shortfall of £21m in 2016-17.
Figures released under Freedom of Information show the public counter at Craigmillar police station was open just 70 per cent of its scheduled hours between January and June, compared with 99 per cent of its hours over the previous six months.. Six others were open less than 80 per cent.
In 2014, the Evening News campaigned to save station counters in Edinburgh and the Lothians from being closed as part of a major cuts programme. Plans to shut counters at South Queensferry, Linlithgow and Tranent were reversed and proposals to transfer the counters at Corstorphine and Craigmillar to local neighbourhood hubs were also dropped.
Edinburgh Tory group leader Cameron Rose said it was disappointing the promised hours were not being kept.
He said: “It would be interesting to know whether there are insufficient civilian staff to do it or if police officers are back-filling and have been called away and the police are too stretched to maintain the committed hours.”
George McIrvine, Unison branch secretary for police civilian staff, said: “The big concern I’ve got is the cuts coming over the next ten years are only going to see this getting worse. Our members are telling us all the time about counters being closed because people are off sick, leaving no-one to cover the front desk, and option B is to close it.”
City police commander Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald said: “We remain keen to engage with our communities in every way possible and front counter provision by civilian members of police staff is a key element of this.
“We try to maintain our front counter service whenever we can and on the vast majority of occasions we do achieve this.
“However, the number of people using this service has significantly reduced and as such it would be inappropriate to take officers from frontline duties in order to staff front counters.”