Police Officer Numbers

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 September 2022.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

7. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that police officer numbers dropped to 16,610 at the end of June, below Police Scotland’s “full officer establishment” of 17,234. (S6F-01389)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Officer numbers fluctuate due to the cycle of recruitment and retirement. The latest statistics reflect the impact of Covid restrictions and the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—which reduced the capacity to train new recruits at the Scottish police college. The statistics also reflect the impact of recent pension changes.

It is important to note, however, that a further 300 officers were recruited in July. That figure is not yet reflected in the statistics that have been quoted. On 2 August, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland published its assurance review of Police Scotland’s strategic workforce planning and recommended a focus on

“developing a workforce based on the skillset and mix required to meet the current and future challenges for policing in Scotland”.

Although the recruitment and deployment of police officers in Scotland is, of course, a matter for the chief constable, the Scottish Government will continue to discuss that and other recommendations with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I acknowledge that the figures will fluctuate from week to week, but I see that the Scottish Government has ushered in a permanent reduction in police establishment numbers of about 600 officers.

If that were not concerning enough, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone is on record as saying that cuts to the police budget mean that we are already

“seeing the impact in our service of having fewer officers across a range of operational areas including a responsiveness to calls from the public”.

I understand that we could lose up to 1,000 additional officers from our service. It is important to bear in mind that 80 per cent of calls to Police Scotland are not crime related. That marks out the distinctly Scottish nature of a police service that is responsible for wellbeing, which, I hope, the First Minister will defend.

Is the First Minister concerned about the chief constable’s comments and the effect of brutal cuts in police numbers? What action will she take to ensure the resilience of the police service and to ensure that our police officers can do their jobs? I plead with her to recognise that, unlike other forces in the United Kingdom, the police service in Scotland has a distinct nature, and we should never accept the possibility of losing that.

The First Minister:

I lead a Government that has worked throughout the entire time that we have been in Government to protect police numbers and to support our police officers and the staff who support them. We will continue to discuss these issues in what is a very difficult context with the chief constable, Police Scotland and, of course, the Scottish Police Authority.

We will always do everything that we can to support the work, wellbeing and resilience of our police officers; they do a fantastic job day in, day out. I take this opportunity to thank the police for their recent outstanding work during operation unicorn. We will continue to do everything that we can to support our police and our other public services.

However, it is incumbent on me to point out, again, the reality of the context that we are operating in. We are operating within a fixed budget that has, because of inflation, already been eroded this year to the tune of £1.7 billion.

We are trying to give public sector workers the fairest possible pay increases, and I am pleased that we were able to conclude a pay deal with the police. These are difficult situations, which force us into difficult decisions.

We come at this with the determination to protect public services. I say to Pauline McNeill, as I would say to any member, that, in these really tough times, when much is completely beyond the control of the Government, if members think that we should be making different decisions, they should come and say that. However, members cannot simply ask us to spend more money in one area without saying where they think we should spend less. That is the responsibility that is demanded of the Government right now, and I think that it is the responsibility that people demand of all their politicians during this difficult time.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

If the First Minister wants a suggestion, why does she not stop spending money on independence white papers and start properly funding our police force? We are seeing damaging cuts, and the First Minister has broken her manifesto pledge to protect and support the police and to protect the police budget? It is shameful, First Minister.

The First Minister:

I am not sure that anyone needs any more evidence this week of the financial, fiscal and economic illiteracy of the Conservatives, but I think that we have probably just had some more thrown into the bargain.

The Tories keep mentioning the money for an independence referendum, which would fall into the next financial year, not this financial year. However, in this week of all weeks, I think that it is pretty obvious to people why we so desperately need to be an independent country. We have a UK Government that Scotland did not vote for, that has already imposed Brexit on us against our will—a Brexit that is doing real damage to living standards and to the economy—and that has, this week, crashed the entire UK economy. The cost of that is being borne by ordinary people across the country. What has caused the crash in the economy? It is £45 billion in tax cuts that prioritise the very richest people in our society. Independence is about getting away from Tory incompetence and, frankly, Tory immorality. The sooner the people of Scotland have the choice of independence, the better for us all.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a short pause before we move on to members’ business.