Covid absences cost police ‘around 140,000 working days’

Chief constable Iain Livingstone included the figures in a letter to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee.

Covid absences cost police ‘around 140,000 working days’ PA Ready

Coronavirus has cost Police Scotland around 140,000 working days in terms of officer and staff absences, chief constable Iain Livingstone has said.

Over the course of the pandemic, there has been about 19,000 individual instances of officers and staff needing to take time off because of Covid-19.

The latest forecast from the force is that coronavirus will add £6.7m to its day-to-day running costs for the 2020-21 financial year – with this including £3.5m for personal protective equipment and hygiene, and £2m on overtime.

Additional costs of £2.6m have also been incurred for cleaning and decontamination, the chief constable said, adding that the force’s income is also projected to be lower because of the pandemic.

But Livingstone, who included the figures in a letter to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, said the overall impact of Covid-19 on revenue costs had been “mitigated by an additional £8.2m funding from the Scottish Government”.

This, together with action by the force’s management to reduce costs, means its full-year deficit is now expected to be around £36m.

In the letter, Livingstone told how Police Scotland has “implemented measures to ensure that officers and staff in essential public-facing roles do not attend for duty when they may be a risk to others”.

He said absence levels had “fluctuated in the previous 12 months”, adding those linked to the pandemic had been and remain “challenging”.

However, he insisted the situation is being “managed effectively”.

Figures covering the period between March 18, 2020 and February 17, 2021 show a “significant increase in absence levels between mid-March and early April”, when coronavirus first hit.

Absences increased to a peak “in excess of 3700 at the end of March” last year – almost four times higher than March 2019 when there were “around 1000”.

Livingstone told the committee that since then, absence levels have “steadily reduced and have remained at levels broadly commensurate with those experienced in the previous year (when Covid-19 was not a factor) subject to periodic fluctuations”.

He added: “During a period following the peak of April, the absence rate reduced to about 3500, which was as low as the rate has been since Police Scotland came into being, underlining the commitment to public service demonstrated by officers and staff.

“Notwithstanding this generally positive position over the period of the pandemic, Police Scotland has experienced over 19,000 individual instances of absence due to Covid-19, which equates to around 140,000 working days.”

On February 17 this year, 1166 absences were recorded across Police Scotland, compared to 1099 on the same date in 2020.

Of these, Livingstone added, 283 were linked to coronavirus, with officers either isolating on a precautionary basis, off with symptoms, because they had been contact traced or had tested positive.

The police chief also told the committee that “absence levels will continue to be closely monitored to mitigate risk and address emerging resourcing demands”.

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