The Scottish government has been accused of “radical underfunding” of the police force amid budget cuts that opponents say will leave the force facing costs of millions.
The claims were made by Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur who says a freedom of information request by the party found that Police Scotland spent more than £10m on hire vehicles in the last five years.
But the SNP’s justice secretary dismissed the claims as “false”.
The Lib Dems say the new figures show the cost of police hire vehicles between 2017 and 2022 soared to £10,930,935.37 between 2017 and 2022.
In 2022 alone, Police Scotland spent £5,498,529 on hire vehicles, which represents a fivefold increase on the year before, McArthur says.
In June, the Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, stated that policing was “not one of the priorities” of the SNP Government’s recent spending review.
In August, police officers took industrial action by withdrawing their goodwill from the force over a pay dispute.
McArthur said: “The Chief Constable is right to say that police funding is not one of the priorities for this SNP government.
“We know that policing has been left underfunded and under-resourced. Now we see the bill for hiring in vehicles ballooning at a time when Police Scotland can ill-afford it. With further cuts to justice budgets in the years ahead, the picture looks even more worrying.
“People need to know that when a crime is committed, the police will turn up and offenders will be properly pursued. With the squeeze on police and court budgets, that can no longer be taken for granted.
“The SNP seem to want to get justice on the cheap. Scottish Liberal Democrats have argued, and the public knows, that this is simply unsustainable.”
Spokesperson for justice secretary Keith Brown: “We will take no lessons on budgets from the Lib Dems, who enabled the Tories to bring in a decade of austerity that is still damaging our public services.
“But the Lib Dems’ claims regarding police budgets are false – the reality is we have actually further increased the policing budget by £40.5m for 2022-23, bringing the total budget to over £1.3bn.
“Despite Westminster cuts to the Scottish Government’s capital budget we have more than doubled the police capital budget since 2017-18, supporting continued investment in police assets including the vehicle fleet to ensure officers have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.”