I start by reiterating my appreciation for the hard work of the police and the professionalism that they have shown, particularly in the north-east, but right across Scotland, in keeping us safe during the pandemic. We currently have 17,234 police officers in Scotland, which is significantly above the level we inherited in 2007.
Following the recent publication of Police Scotland’s strategic workforce plan, the chief constable has made it clear that, given the continued response to Covid-19 and with Glasgow hosting the 26th conference of the parties—COP26—later this year, he does not believe that police officer numbers should be reduced at this time. I will not rehearse what I have just said about the budget, which, of course, eliminates Police Scotland’s structural deficit.
Also, although the operational deployment of police officers is a matter for the chief constable, I note that Police Scotland data shows that, on a like-for-like basis, there are now 40 more police officers in the north-east police division than there were in September 2013.
Since 2013, Aberdeenshire has seen violent crime triple while five police stations have closed, including Kemnay in my constituency. Just a few days ago, Kemnay and District Rifle Club had its buildings burned to the ground in a deliberate fire. With fewer police officers and fewer police stations, is the justice secretary going to do anything to protect rural communities?
Again, I disagree with Alexander Burnett’s characterisation. I am sorry to hear of the incident that he referred to, but crime has fallen under the Scottish National Party Government. In fact, it is at one of its lowest levels in four decades. We continue to invest in the police at record levels and to ensure that the number of police officers is significantly above the level that we inherited in 2007.
There are 32 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland, which compares with around 22 officers per 10,000 population in England and Wales. Scotland is a safer place under this SNP-led Scottish Government. All the statistics from the past decade bear that out. If there are particular issues that Alexander Burnett feels need to be addressed, he should take those up operationally with the local divisional commander.