Police Scotland has warned it could be forced to make compulsory redundancies as the force faces having to cut 800 officers and staff by April 2024 – with the prospect that overall numbers could fall by more than 2,000 over the next four years if budgets are not increased.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), meanwhile, said it may have to take 18 fire appliances off the road as a result of financial pressures, with chief officer Ross Haggart raising fears about the impact this could have on community safety.
The warnings came as senior figures from both the police and fire service appeared before Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee.
With the focus of discussions on the budget for 2024-25, both emergency services issued a stark warning on what may happen unless more money is made available.
David Page, Police Scotland’s deputy chief officer, told MSPs the force will have to cut 600 officers and 200 staff by April 1 if it is given a flat-cash budget settlement.
But he said: “We actually can’t do that, because we don’t have enough levers to pull.
“Even if we stopped all the probationer intake in December and the probationer intake in March, it would not get us down to the number we need to do.
“So we would be looking to other mechanisms, like voluntary redundancy, potentially coming to the Government and seeking compulsory redundancy.”
Police Scotland has already cut officer numbers from 17,234 to 16,600 in 2023-24, a 3.7% reduction.
But a paper submitted by the force shows its initial analysis of a flat-cash settlement – where money is not increased – for 2024-25 would mean it needs to make savings of £50m next year, leading to cuts in numbers by April.
Looking ahead over the period 2024-25 to 2027-28, the paper warned: “For policing in Scotland to operate within a flat-cash funding allocation, £140m of recurring savings would be required to accumulate over this period.
“Pay award assumptions alone would require a 2,070 FTE reduction over the next four years, the equivalent of a 9.3% workforce reduction.”
Page added the financial situation means he cannot guarantee body-worn cameras for police officers would be rolled out next year, though he said Police Scotland is doing its “utmost” to ensure it goes ahead.
Haggart warned MSPs that SFRS could have to make savings of between £14m and £26m next year alone – adding that by 2026-27, this could rise to £37-£48m.
He said: “There’s very little scope for us to make significant savings without reducing firefighter and specifically whole-time firefighter numbers.
“If we were to have to reduce our firefighter numbers to the extent our modelling suggests, then we do not believe this could be achieved without impacting upon the safety of the communities we are here to serve.”
He said that if the service has to make a “conservative” £14m of savings next year, “that would equate to 339 whole-time firefighters”.
Haggart told MSPs: “Those firefighters would equate to 18 appliances that we would not have the ability to crew because of a reduced firefighter number.
“We have got 116 full-time appliances across Scotland, so quite a significant proportion of our appliances we would no longer be able to crew.
“Changes of that magnitude, we would not be able to meet our current response times and things like that, which would mean we would not be able to keep communities as safe as they currently are because of the magnitude of the changes we would need to make.”
Afterwards, Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: “Just a week after Humza Yousaf promised to deliver bodycams for our police, a senior police official has cast doubt on his pledge.
“Officers in the rest of the UK already have this essential kit, yet police in Scotland may have to wait even longer due to SNP funding cuts.”
Findlay added the projected fall in police numbers was “also alarming”, saying: “Losing a further 2,000 officers would decimate Police Scotland’s ability to tackle crime, yet that figure could prove an underestimate if the SNP’s funding projections come to fruition.
“This SNP’s undermining of Police Scotland has to stop. Public safety is at stake.”
Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill meanwhile said: “If the SNP do not listen to the shocking evidence the Criminal Justice Committee heard this morning, they will be presiding over devastating police officer and staff cuts and undermining the ability of our police and fire services to keep our communities safe.
“It is unacceptable that Humza Yousaf cannot even keep his own promises to roll out police bodycams, leaving Scotland behind the rest of the country.
“The SNP must listen to these stark warnings and act now to address this turmoil.”