The Scottish Police Authority considered and approved its budget for 2019-20 at its meeting on 28 March 2019. The total Scottish Government funding for the Scottish Police Authority in 2019-20 is increasing by £42.3 million, which means that the annual policing budget is now more than £1.2 billion. Significantly, that includes a 52 per cent increase to the capital budget.
Police Scotland will continue to ensure that it invests in providing a fleet that is fit for purpose, safe, reliable and sufficiently flexible to be responsive to the dynamic nature of policing, as is outlined in its fleet strategy. Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has said:
“Our maintenance team do an excellent job and we have over 96% of the fleet on the road ... Across a multitude of demands, we are prioritising the capital budget we have been allocated and are investing in the right areas to achieve as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”
This week, it was revealed that more than 250 of Police Scotland’s patrol cars are more than 10 years old and that some have up to 200,000 miles on the clock. Last week, the chair of the Scottish Police Federation told her conference that the fleet was a “disgrace”. I have a straight question for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice: does he think it acceptable that officers are having to apprehend criminals in vehicles that are “held together with duct tape”?
For a Tory member of the Scottish Parliament to say that is completely and utterly to cry crocodile tears. When the Scottish Government proposed a capital budget increase of 52 per cent, Liam Kerr and his colleagues voted against it. There was a proposal for £100 million resource protection until 2021, but he and his party voted against it. Police Scotland also had to pay £125 million in VAT that no force in England Wales had to pay, but the Tories have done hee-haw about that.
If Mr Kerr will spare me the crocodile tears, I will tell him a little bit more about the figures that he quoted.
On his point about vehicles being more than 10 years old, of 268 such vehicles only five are on the front line: the vast majority are non-front-line response vehicles. He talked about vehicles that have more than 200,000 miles on the clock: there is one such vehicle, which is a non-operational vehicle that is used as a training tool for armed police. It would have been much better had Mr Kerr seen a bit of the context—perhaps without the crocodile tears—and had supported the Scottish Government, whose budget is increasing capital for the police, as opposed to the Tory Government, which is taking away through VAT that no other force, in England and Wales, has to pay.
I hear the cabinet secretary’s response, but he knows full well that the Scottish Conservatives cleaned up the Scottish Government’s mess on VAT for police and fire services and put £25 million back into the front line each year.
“Repairs and maintenance of buildings will be reduced. Worn-out, inefficient cars will not be replaced and the force will continue to rely on several outdated and disconnected IT systems.”
The cabinet secretary frequently hides behind the “operational matter” defence, but he cannot do so this time. The SNP has been in charge of the police service for nearly 12 years. Again, I ask the cabinet secretary a straight question—he seemed to struggle with my previous one: does he agree that our police officers deserve better than that?
Better than a Tory Government that pinches £125 million from them but does not do so from police forces in England and Wales? Mr Kerr points at me, but he should be pointing at his colleagues south of the border, who have stolen that money from Police Scotland.
Let us look at the Tories’ budget plan, which would have taken £575 million out of the Scottish budget. Frankly, if Mr Kerr and his party were in charge, our police officers would be riding around not in police cars but in rickshaws. There is the issue of the VAT, and there is also the Tories’ budget plan, which would have taken £575 million out of Scottish policing and out of budgets in general.
Let me also correct Mr Kerr by giving him a little bit of context about the figures that he mentioned. The average age of fleet vehicles is five years and the average unmarked police car mileage is 57,000 miles, not 200,000 miles. Overall vehicle availability is 96.4 per cent, against a benchmark of 95 per cent in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Of course, budgets will be constrained, no doubt—in significant part—due to the decade of austerity that the Conservative Party has imposed on us. Instead of carping from the sidelines and crying crocodile tears, perhaps Mr Kerr should support the Scottish Government’s budget proposal of a 52 per cent capital uplift.
We will continue to invest in the police service, while his party continues to decimate it.
As the Liberal Democrats’ freedom of information request uncovered, a quarter of the police force’s fleet has clocked up between 100,000 and 200,000 miles. Front-line officers say that the fleet is not just a disgrace but also inadequate. Recently, in Fife, only two of nine police vehicles were roadworthy. The lack of resources was a consistent theme in the 2015 police staff survey, which was supposed to be repeated in 2017. Will the cabinet secretary ask the national force to bring forward the long-overdue survey in order to find out what staff now think about the tools that they are given?
Again, I am not here to interfere in operational matters for Police Scotland, but the same context that I described applies in relation to the question that Liam McArthur asks. I remind him that, although I had a go at the Conservatives for withholding the VAT, it was Sir Danny Alexander, who was at the Treasury at the time, who made the decision to withhold it. It would be helpful to have Liam McArthur’s support to get that VAT back from the UK Government.
As I said, we will continue to invest in the police. There is a £100 million revenue protection for the police and a 52 per cent uplift in capital.
Where Police Scotland can get feedback—be it from the trade unions, such as the Scottish Police Federation, or, indeed, directly from its members—the member is, of course, welcome to encourage Police Scotland to do so, because feedback from police officers is important. I note that when we gave them an historic 6.5 per cent pay rise, the feedback was that that was welcome. I always listen to police officers. I will continue to listen to them and to have engagement with the Scottish Police Federation.
I understand why Liam Kerr will not do it, but it would be helpful if other political parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, got on board and demanded the £125 million of VAT back from the UK Government.
All the other political parties, with the honourable exception of the Scottish Green Party, voted against a budget that has seen a 52 per cent uplift in capital, revenue protection for Police Scotland and an historic pay rise for police officers, which the Scottish Police Federation has described as the best uplift to police officer pay in 20 years. Those political parties will have to answer for that.
There is a genuine question in and around the capital allocation, and I am happy to explore that. I have said publicly, on the record, at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing that I am happy to look at the question of the capital allocation. However, let us not talk down the good work that the maintenance and fleet repair team at Police Scotland are doing. They are not just keeping our vehicles on the road, but ensuring that 96 per cent of our vehicles are on the road responding to emergency incidents. It should be congratulated as opposed to belittled by the other parties in this Parliament.
The papers that were submitted to the SPA board last week expose issues with the capital budget that go far beyond simply the fleet. They show a £43.1 million capital allocation against a request for £99 million and a capital budget that is the fifth worst in the UK despite the fact that we have the second largest police force; indeed, in comparison, the Metropolitan Police’s capital budget per officer is almost five times higher than that of Police Scotland. Has the cabinet secretary had discussions with the senior officers who submitted those papers about their concerns about the capital expenditure shortfall in the budget?
Again, I make the point that I have made to other political parties: the member voted against a budget that gave a 52 per cent uplift; and, not only that, but his colleague sitting next to him, Alex Rowley, is the only one who came with any budget proposals—it is honourable that he came, but he was the only one who engaged. In fact, if we had listened to Labour’s plans, there would have been a 3 per cent cut, never mind a 52 per cent uplift in Police Scotland’s budget. Really, the member must reflect on his position before he comes here and demands more money.
On the capital question, I have engaged with Police Scotland, which tells me that the majority of its capital ask—a significant part of it—is for the digital, data and information and communications technology project, which is, of course, very important. We will look at the position and explore it, as the member would expect me to interrogate any ICT project. Part of the capital is for fleet, part of it is for estate and a significant part of it is for ICT. I have great sympathy for that but, rightly, we will make sure that we evaluate it, and we will come forward with future spending reviews.