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Police Scotland (Budget)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th February 2020.

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Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

1. The Scottish Police Federation, the Scottish Police Authority and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents all say that this year’s budget allocation for policing is wholly inadequate. Why is the First Minister ignoring those warnings?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

First, let me point out to Jackson Carlaw and everyone in the chamber that in the draft budget for the year ahead we have committed an extra £42 million of funding for Police Scotland. That is a 3.6 per cent increase and includes an increase in resource funding to protect officer numbers and an increase in capital funding. That is important and welcome.

As the deputy chief officer of Police Scotland, David Page

, said recently:

“The draft funding settlement for policing in 2020-21 includes an uplift of revenue funding of £37 million, which is £17 million higher than originally anticipated ... This is something that we welcome.”

Stewart Carle of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents said, in his submission to the Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing:

“it is certainly welcome that the settlement includes an additional £37 million in the Police Scotland budget.”

I recognise that in our Police Service, as across all our public services, an impact is still being felt from a decade of Tory austerity and we will continue to work to protect the police and our other public services. We are in a budget process and I say to the Conservatives, as I say to other parties across the chamber, that if they want to bring forward credible proposals in the next stage of the process the Government is willing to discuss them.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

The First Minister needs to get up to speed with her Government. We have come forward with credible proposals that have been communicated to her Cabinet Secretary for Finance. It is quite clear that neither she nor her Government have come anywhere close to meeting the budget allocation that front-line officers and the SPA believe is needed to ensure a sustainable policing service.

The First Minister can dissemble all she likes, but that is what front-line police officers—in Parliament today and deeply concerned by the issue—are saying. The chief constable has personally made it clear that Police Scotland needs money to retain officers, to begin to tackle the huge problems in the police estate and to give front-line officers the equipment that they need to keep the public and themselves safe.

There is a black hole of £49 million in Police Scotland’s budget. What is the First Minister’s advice to Police Scotland on how it should deal with that funding gap? Should it cut officer numbers, continue to let the ceilings fall down in police stations and much else besides, or fail to issue essential equipment?

The First Minister:

I and this Government will continue to work closely with the chief constable and the Scottish Police Authority. This, of course, is the Government that has maintained police numbers at 1,000 more than we inherited.

Jackson Carlaw is the representative of a party that, in the rest of the United Kingdom, has cut police numbers by 20,000. Perhaps he should reflect on that.

I said that we would listen to credible proposals. I remind the chamber that, over the past decade, the Tories have presided over a real-terms cut in the Scottish budget of £1.5 billion. Jackson Carlaw has regularly put forward proposals for tax cuts for the richest that would cut another £500 million out of the Scottish budget, yet he makes spending pleas the cost of which amounts to hundreds of millions of pounds.

We have delivered a budget that is fair and that focuses on protecting our public services, growing the economy and tackling the climate emergency. We will talk to and listen to other parties, as we are doing, if they have credible suggestions to make. I ask Jackson Carlaw to look again at the credibility of what he is proposing. In this Government, and in our new finance secretary, in particular, he will find a Government that is very willing to listen.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Perhaps we can get back to the problems that Police Scotland faces, which the First Minister could do something about.

The First Minister trumpets the budget settlement that has been given to Police Scotland, so let us have a look at it in detail. The resource budget is still at least £13 million short of that which the police need just to stand still, and the capital budget faces a real-terms cut, which is the second real-terms annual cut in a row.

Here is what Police Scotland says that that means:

“the current capital allocation for policing is amongst the lowest in UK policing on a per capita basis, is low compared to other public bodies in Scotland and will undoubtedly inhibit our ability to keep up with the threat, harm and risk posed to the people of Scotland from increasing crime”.

That is at a time when the Scottish Government is receiving a funding uplift of £96 million from the UK Government’s investment for extra spending on policing. Why is the First Minister short-changing Scotland’s police officers?

The First Minister:

The draft budget increases Police Scotland’s budget by £42 million. In 2016-17, Police Scotland’s capital budget was £20 million. In the draft budget that has just been published, it is £40 million.

The First Minister:

In other words, it has doubled in the space of a couple of years. That capital budget includes £5 million of extra funding that was specifically requested by the service to accelerate its commitment to greening its fleet.

We will continue to do everything that we can to protect our front-line police officers. I say again that we are doing that against the backdrop of a £1.5 billion austerity reduction in our budget that has been imposed by the Conservatives. That means that Jackson Carlaw and his colleagues have an absolute cheek to talk about our public services. We will continue to put our public services first. If Jackson Carlaw has credible proposals to make and is willing to say how they should be funded, of course we will always listen.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Hollow cries of “Oh!” from Richard Lyle do not pay for more police officers and do not pay to fix a broken police estate.

The wider risk here is obvious, and it has been spelled out bluntly by the Scottish Police Federation in Parliament today in its submission to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. It said:

“The police officers we represent are working harder than ever. They are under strain and it is taking its toll on their physical and mental health and their families. Their working conditions are not satisfactory. In some cases through no fault of our own, we are not providing a good service to the public.”

The choice is clear—the First Minister must increase police funding or she will be putting the public at risk.

The First Minister:

I lead a Government that has kept police numbers at 1,000 more than the level that we inherited. We have done that at a time when Jackson Carlaw’s party has slashed front-line police numbers by 20,000. That is the reality that every police officer across the UK is all too aware of. We are also making sure that our police officers get a decent pay rise, which is more than can be said of Mr Carlaw’s colleagues south of the border.

In the draft budget, we have increased Police Scotland’s funding, and we will continue to listen to all proposals. Here is a challenge for Jackson Carlaw: given the £1.5 billion Tory cut and the £500 million that Jackson Carlaw would like to take out of our budget to give tax cuts to the richest in our society, if he and his colleagues want to tell us where else in the budget we should cut funding in order to fund his proposals, I will be more than happy to listen. However, he must say how they should be paid for, not just where he wants to spend more money.