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Plea for urgent cash as Scottish policing deemed ‘financially unsustainable’

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General of Scotland, who has reporter on the Scottish Police Authority's (SPA) finances.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General of Scotland, addressing MSPs in October 2020.

Scotland’s police force has been labelled “financially unsustainable” – with warnings it will have to cut officer numbers without an immediate boost to its £1.2 billion budget.

A review of the Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) books for 2019-20 said progress is being made, but uncertainty around coronavirus and Brexit have hampered efforts.

Audit Scotland found the SPA went more than £26 million over-budget, with extra cash from the Scottish Government plugging the deficit.

This was in part due to a decision to scrap a £17m cost-cutting plan to axe 750 officer posts “due to the risks associated with EU withdrawal”.

Additionally, the impact of Covid-19 cost the force an extra £2.2m in cancelled leave, overtime and PPE in March.

In light of this, the SPA is preparing a new five-year plan for “financial balance” which it will present in 2021.

The report by auditor general Stephen Boyle said: “The current model of policing in Scotland is not financially sustainable.

“It is now a matter of urgency that the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government reach agreement on what needs to be done to achieve financial sustainability.”

David Crichton, interim SPA chairman, said: “The SPA’s position has been well-documented and we remain of the view that the deficit is unsustainable.

“Without an increase in core budget or a reduction in officer numbers there is no short-term route to eliminating it.”

Interim chief executive Lynn Brown said the report “acknowledges the significant progress that has been made within the authority to strengthen governance and accountability within policing”.

She added: “Important progress has been made in the last 18 months to improve the oversight of policing, organisational capacity and focus.

“Work continues to develop and build a more assertive and outward facing authority that acts in the public interest and I am confident further progress will be made in the months ahead.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it will be working closely with the SPA and Police Scotland to address the issues raised.

She added: “Despite constraints on Scotland’s public services through a decade of UK austerity, our investment in policing this year increased by £60m to more than £1.2bn.

“We have also given the SPA an additional £8.2mto mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the policing budget.

“Future policing requirements will be considered as part of the budget process.”

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