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No evidence to support need for Police Scotland redundancies, union tells MSPs

Unison questioned plans to reduce the Police Scotland workforce (PA)
Unison questioned plans to reduce the Police Scotland workforce (PA)

Union chiefs have insisted there is “no evidence” to support Police Scotland’s decision to seek almost 200 voluntary redundancies from its staff other than the force needing to reduce its deficit.

Unison made clear it does “not support or agree with the decision to launch a voluntary redundancy/early retirement scheme at this time”.

It raised concerns in a letter to Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee after Chief Constable Jo Farrell appeared before the MSPs in December.

Speaking about a voluntary severance scheme for civilian staff, Ms Farrell told the committee the force was looking to reduce numbers by 187 – although she stressed some workers, such as control room and custody staff, would not be eligible “because those are areas of high risk and we need those resources”.

Her comments came as she accepted it had been “challenging” for Police Scotland to “bring the budget in line”, making clear: “We cannot afford to continue with our current policing model.”

Police Scotland Chief Constable Jo Farrell was questioned by MSPs in December (Durham Police/PA)

David Malcolm, Unison’s Police Scotland branch head, and Deborah Clarke, the union’s head of police and justice, told the committee that while they have “repeatedly tried to engage” with Police Scotland and watchdogs at the Scottish Police Authority, “the focus remained only on cutting police staff numbers rather than addressing meaningful consultation”.

In a letter to MSPs, Mr Malcolm and Ms Clarke said: “We have seen no evidence or detailed plan to support this decision, other than to reduce the deficit – which makes it a blunt and ineffective instrument.”

They said there are currently “not enough police staff to undertake the essential work needed to keep police officers on the front line working efficiently and effectively for the public”.

As a result, Mr Malcolm and Ms Clarke questioned the impact on workload and “what work will stop being carried out as the workforce reduces”.

Their letter added that previous reductions in police staff had resulted in officers “being taken off the streets to do police staff roles”, before the force then had “recruit to increase police staff numbers at great expense”.

Police Scotland said it is reducing staff numbers “proportionately” in line with officer numbers. There were 16,613 full-time equivalent officers at the end of September 2023.

A spokesperson for the force said: “Police Scotland has been very clear about the financial pressures on policing which have led to a reduction in police officer numbers.

“At the same time, we are reducing police staff numbers proportionately. Voluntary redundancy and voluntary early retirement is one of the ways the service aims to reduce police staff costs, and we have been consulting trade unions on this.

“Our commitment to no compulsory redundancies remains in place.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our Budget for 2024-25 sets out record funding of £1.55 billion for policing – an increase of £92.7 million from 2023-24.

“The recruitment and deployment of officers and staff are matters for Police Scotland, with decisions on the operation of voluntary redundancy schemes resting with the Accountable Officer of the SPA.”