Police Scotland officer numbers at lowest level since force created
The number of police in Scotland has reached its lowest level for almost 14 years, figures showed - with almost 700 officers having quit the force in the last year alone. Police Scotland had 16,610 full time equivalent (FTE) officers in its ranks at the end of June 2022 - the lowest number since the creation of the single national police force. READ MORE: Queen left Prince Phillip 'roaring with laughter' after being dared to eat kebab by grandson Prince Harry
The latest figures, published by the Scottish Government, showed the number of FTE officers has fallen by 679 from the same time the previous year - the equivalent of almost two officers leaving the force a day over the last 12 months. In the last three months alone, the number has fallen by 195 FTE officers - with the overall total now at the lowest it has been since the end of September 2008. The latest police workforce figures were released at the same time as a new report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said that Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Government should "collectively cease to use 17,234 officers as a target and focus instead on developing a workforce based on the skillset and mix required to meet the current and future challenges for policing in Scotland".
The target of having 17,234 officers comes from when the SNP first came to power in 2007, with the party then pledging to increase officer numbers by 1,000 to reach this level. Officer numbers were 16,265 FTE at the end of June that year, but had risen to 17,278 FTE by the end of June 2009, before peaking at 17,496 at the end of March 2013. While they fluctuated after that, they remained above 17,000 until the end of last year.
Craig Naylor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said the commitment to having 17,234 officers was "a blunt instrument" and added that this target should be replaced by "effective workforce planning should replace it". But with officer numbers falling, the Tories accused the SNP of having "created a crisis in policing". Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene said: "This exodus of officers from our police force should be a huge wake-up call for the SNP.
"These latest figures show a drop of more than 600 officers in less than a year, highlighting that policing is no longer an SNP Government priority - as the chief constable of Police Scotland has said himself."
Mr Greene continued: "What's worse, relations between police officers and the SNP Government are at rock bottom due to derisory pay offers which have led the police to take industrial action despite their limited legal powers to do so. "The SNP have further insulted the police by failing to deliver on their previous promises about protecting police funding and officer numbers, and it is public safety that will suffer as a result. "The SNP have created a crisis in policing - they need to fix this mess or risk crime rates spiralling out of control."
The latest figures on officer numbers come after data released under Freedom of Information revealed that 763 Scottish police officers plan to retire this year, well above the average of 584 retirals recorded over each year for the last five years. Police Scotland recently launched a recruitment campaign, with Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone saying he wants to "encourage everybody to consider a career in policing". Commenting on the latest figures, Sir Iain said: "Officer numbers are lower as a result of restricted recruitment because of Covid, the Cop26 climate change summit, and increased retirals resulting from changes to pension arrangements.
"We are recruiting and I welcomed 300 new probationary constables last week." But he also said: "I have been clear the funding arrangements set out in the Scottish Government's spending review, if progressed, will mean difficult decisions for policing in Scotland - for example, a far smaller workforce.
"Workforce planning can assist in understanding how to best meet the increasingly complex policing needs of our communities. "But this will be a challenge, particularly as policing in Scotland already delivers around GBP200 million of annual savings compared to legacy arrangements."
Sir Iain's comments came as Mr Naylor said the HMICS review had "identified some fundamental cultural and strategic issues which must be addressed" by Police Scotland so the force could "deliver a sustainable policing model for the future". It said that both the Cop26 climate change conference and the Covid crisis had "facilitated a necessary commitment from the chief constable to maintain officer numbers". But it said since the 17,234 figure had been removed as a political commitment there had been a "reluctance to make hard choices on the parameters for future workforce change" by Police Scotland.
"These choices are now necessary to move forward with effective workforce planning," the report added, as it recommended that the police "develop a roadmap for delivery of strategic SWP (strategic workforce plan) objectives and a programme for workforce change". Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: "National police numbers remain higher than at any time during the previous administration. Our officer numbers are also favourable relative to elsewhere in the UK - with around 31 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland compared to around 24 in England and Wales as at March 2022.
"Officer numbers continue to reflect the impact of Cop26 and Covid restrictions, which reduced capacity to train new recruits at the Scottish Police College. "This is combined with the impact of recent pension changes which I know Police Scotland is alert to and managing, and there has been a decrease in officers numbers over the quarter to June 30."
Mr Brown said since April that about 600 new officers had taken the oath of office in the police force, saying this was "no doubt influenced by the basic starting salary for a constable in Scotland - which is currently approximately GBP5,000 more than that paid to equivalent officers in England and Wales". He added: "We will continue to support the force to deliver sustainable excellence by investing over GBP1.3 billion in policing in each of the next four years."
But Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur described the fall in officer numbers as "alarming". He said: "After of years of patting themselves on the back over police officers numbers, SNP ministers are now presiding over the hollowing out of our police force. "Of most concern is the loss of so many experienced and skilled officers; leaving because they are sick and tired of the SNP's broken promises and threats of further cuts."
The Liberal Democrat MSP demanded: "The Scottish Government must commit to urgent action to turnaround this situation and avert a national emergency. That means improving pay and conditions, resourcing the service properly and placing the welfare and voice of officers at the centre of decisions about the future." Sign up to Aberdeen Live's newsletter to get the latest stories and breaking news sent to your inbox
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