1. I remind the chamber that my wife is a serving police officer with Police Scotland.
Body-worn cameras are vital for police officer safety and to increase public trust. The Scottish National Party has left Police Scotland as the last force in the United Kingdom to roll out body-worn cameras. Yesterday, Police Scotland said that it could not
“guarantee that body-worn cameras ... would be rolled out next year.”
Humza Yousaf did not deliver them when he was justice secretary. As First Minister, will he let police officers down again?
First and foremost, we have increased the budget for Police Scotland. I am pleased that, after last week, Douglas Ross seems to have accepted the point that the Scottish Government has increased the budget for Police Scotland by 6.3 per cent, which is an additional £80 million. I quote directly from Deputy Chief Officer David Page, who said that Police Scotland’s current plans are actually that it
“will continue to roll out ... national body-worn video cameras, as outlined in previous plans.”
When I was justice secretary, I ensured that we had the capital budget so that the roll-out could begin. I am pleased to say that the facts remain that not only has the Scottish Government increased the budget for Police Scotland but, much like Deputy Chief Officer David Page said yesterday, the plans are to roll out national body-worn video cameras for our police officers, who are the ones who should be credited for the fact that we have seen one of the lowest crime rates in Scotland for almost 50 years.
The evidence was clear that those cameras will not be fully rolled out. Humza Yousaf said in his programme for government last week that they were a priority, but Police Scotland has said that it “cannot guarantee” their roll-out because there is a £300 million black hole in the capital budget.
“current capital allocation is among the lowest in UK policing ... This is significantly short of the funding required to improve conditions and equipment for the wellbeing of officers and staff.”
If this really is a priority for Humza Yousaf, will he now treat it like one?
Let us deal with the facts. The fact is that the UK Government has cut our capital budget by more than 6.5 per cent. Here are some more facts for Douglas Ross: the Scottish Government has increased Police Scotland’s budget by £80 million this year—fact. We have more police officers per head in Scotland than in England—fact. R ecorded crime is at one of its lowest levels in Scotland in almost 50 years—fact. In fact, recorded crime has fallen by 42 per cent since the SNP came into power—that is a fact. [
Budgets are so stretched that the police say that officer redundancies are now on the table.
Let us look at the facts that the First Minister wants to reiterate. There is a £300 million black hole in Police Scotland’s capital budget—fact. Officer numbers in Scotland are at their lowest level in 14 years—fact. Officer numbers started to slip when he was justice secretary and they are in free fall now that he is First Minister. Without further funding, Police Scotland warned yesterday that
“2,000 police officers could be let go in the next five years and 600 could be off our streets by April next year”.
Why is the Government even considering those cuts, which will stretch policing in Scotland to breaking point?
Let us look at how we are spending that money. Not only are we ensuring that we have more police officers on the beat per head than there are England but we have just concluded a deal with our police officers for a generous and fair pay increase to them. That means that the minimum and maximum salaries are now higher for police officers in all ranks in Scotland compared with their counterparts in England and Wales.
When it comes to the budget, we will of course negotiate and engage with all political parties right across the chamber. What Douglas Ross cannot do is demand that more money be spent and, at the same time, demand that we cut taxes. That is simply not a credible position.
The First Minister is getting angry again. Either a civil servant has not put this statistic in his briefing pack or he is not reading it. Police officer numbers in Scotland under the SNP are now at their lowest level in 14 years. I say to the First Minister that that is a fact, and that is what we are facing on the streets of Scotland right now.
Police Scotland will be the last force in the UK to roll out body-worn cameras. Officers no longer have the resources to investigate every crime. Their workplaces are not fit for purpose, and now the number of officers could be cut by 2,000. The thin blue line is barely visible at this rate. Does the First Minister accept that, with falling officer numbers, communities in Scotland will feel less safe?
There are over 350 more police officers than when we took office in 2007.
When it comes to real-terms increases in Police Scotland’s budget, that is a fair-enough call for any political party to make, and we will of course give that consideration when it comes to the budget. However, has Douglas Ross ever asked himself why a real-terms increase was difficult this year? Of course, it was difficult because inflation is sky high, and inflation is sky high because of his party’s complete economic mismanagement of the public finances. [
When it comes to real-terms increases, of course we will give that consideration, but it was Douglas Ross, a year ago, who stood here and demanded that the Scottish Government copy Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget. If we had done that, we would not have money to spend on our police service or indeed any of our public services. Thank goodness that Douglas Ross is nowhere near the public finances of Scotland.