The cabinet secretary will appreciate the concern of many people across the country about backfilling. Derek Penman, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, said that the current push to maintain an extra 1,000 police officers is pointless unless they are performing operational roles. A recent investigation by the Sunday Herald claimed that fewer than half of Scotland’s 17,000 officers were actually operational.
Will the Scottish Government agree to publish proper police strength statistics, breaking down officers by operational role, so that we can have proper public information, parliamentary scrutiny and transparency?
On parliamentary scrutiny, Murdo Fraser may be aware that the Justice Committee has recently given attention to this issue. Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson gave evidence to the Justice Committee on 1 December, when he made it very clear that there is no policy of backfilling civilian posts with police officers. On occasions when Police Scotland is changing how it provides a particular service, it may move operational police officers into a role because they have the skills to undertake that responsibility. Additionally, on occasions when civilian staff are off on sick leave or training, operational police officers may be used to provide a particular service for that period.
As the deputy chief constable outlined, there is no policy of backfilling civilian staff posts with police officers. However, I am more than happy to give Murdo Fraser a breakdown of the percentage of police officers who cover particular areas. For example, 75 per cent of Police Scotland officers operate on local policing matters. The figures break down into other specialist fields, regional units and national units. If it would help Murdo Fraser to understand how Police Scotland breaks down the staff grouping of its police officers, I will be more than happy to write to him with the details.
DCC Richardson and Sir Stephen House before him reiterated that there is no policy on backfilling, but Unison and the Scottish Police Federation advised that it is happening regularly. We have had media reports of significant numbers of police officers not doing police duties. Does the cabinet secretary not agree that the SPA should measure and monitor regularly whether police officers are fulfilling police officer functions?
It is an operational matter for the chief constable to determine how he should configure his staff and how he wishes to use his staff and police officers to fulfil Police Scotland’s responsibilities.
Elaine Murray will be aware that the SPA is undertaking a piece of work that is looking at future demands on policing as a result of issues such as cybercrime and the ageing population. As I mentioned to the Justice Committee yesterday, I have no doubt that once that work is complete, the SPA and Police Scotland will look at how policing will be configured in the future, in order to meet the demands that are being placed upon the police service.