I thank the Minister for prior sight of the statement.
Let me be charitable and start by welcoming one aspect of the statement, namely the £50 million increase in counter-terrorism resources. However, I echo entirely the sentiment of Ms Abbott that, given the huge pressure on the police service in England and Wales, a flat-cash core settlement from the Government is simply not enough. In doing so, I pay tribute to all police officers right across the UK for the hard and oftentimes dangerous work they do to keep us safe.
Just last week, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, committed to increasing the police authority’s Government-allocated budget in real terms in 2018-19—a clear difference from the approach taken by this Government. In March 2017, there were 32 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland, compared with around 21 officers per 10,000 population in England and Wales—over one third more police officers per head keeping Scots safe.
In Scotland, public confidence in the police remains strong. Recorded crime is at a 42-year low, recidivism is at a 16-year low and police clear-up rates are the highest for 40 years. That is all while, in the words of Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, UK Government cuts
“have put almost immeasurable financial stress” on public services, including the police. He went on to highlight the fact that the police VAT relief could have been delivered with the stroke of a political pen, and that inaction put further unnecessary stress on police funding.
Following a sustained SNP campaign, we welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget that Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will be eligible to reclaim VAT in the future. However, in the spirit of today’s statement, will the Minister commit to requesting that the Chancellor also reimburse the £125 million already taken from frontline police services in Scotland so that it can be used for future reinvestment in Scottish policing?