The current number of police officers in Scotland is “not sustainable”, it has been claimed amid warnings of a “structural deficit” in the force’s budget.
At a board meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on Friday, vice chair David Crichton also said “difficult choices” will have to be made to address the deficit.
He said the vast majority of the police budget has already been allocated to cover officer and staff costs.
He told the meeting in Edinburgh: “We at the authority have been raising our concerns about financial sustainability consistently over the last four or five months.
“The chief constable’s been raising it and Audit Scotland has raised it as well.
“There is a structural deficit in the policing budget. It’s simple arithmetic, it’s not complicated mathematics, it’s simple arithmetic.
“With almost 90% of the budget allocated to officer and staff costs, it does mean that difficult choices are going to have to be made over the next weeks and months – difficult choices by Government, by the authority and by Police Scotland.
“Frankly, current officer numbers are not sustainable within the existing budget so something has to change on that front.
“The deficit is simply going to continue to increase if something does not change.”
But he added it “doesn’t mean that improvements can’t still be made”.
He continued: “Nevertheless, with the current budget, with the current numbers, some changes need to be made and some difficult choices have to be made.
“We’re expecting the Scottish budget on February 6, there may be some revisions to that after the UK Budget, we know it’s going to be a difficult settlement, but we’d be failing in our responsibilities as authority members if we did not continue to reinforce the fact that there is a structural deficit.
“It will only increase unless changes are made, in some combination, to both budget and officers numbers. I think that’s a reality we have to all face up to.”
Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told the meeting there had been an increase in the demands on officers in 2019.
He said there was an almost 20% rise – from around 1,500 to 1,800 – in the number of loyalist and republican marches in Scotland, as well as a higher number of spontaneous protests such as those by Extinction Rebellion.
“My priority is to build a sustainable police service that has the right mix of police officers and police staff that operates within its budget,” he said.
“But at the moment there’s an operational imperative, I sense an element of political imperative, to maintain officer numbers and the challenge for us is showing the value that having a strong police service provides and at this stage, making a case for further investment.
“This service has made significant savings. We’ve taken £200m a year out of the core cost of policing, I don’t think we’ve had the recognition and acknowledgement that that provides.
“We’ve had real time protection but that’s only kicked in since 2015/2016, but the core cost of policing is £200m less every year than it was prior to Police Scotland coming into being (in April 2013).
“So our deficit is because actually our budget has been cut even greater than the savings that we’ve managed to achieve.
“So my pitch is, can we get some of those savings back?”