Scottish government must now create balanced police service – UNISON

UNISON Scotland today called on the Scottish government to look again at police staffing, as a new report by the Accounts Commission reveals that frontline police officers are backfilling the jobs of police staff – up to 3,000 of whom face redundancy.

The Accounts Commission report ‘Best Value in police authorities and police forces in Scotland’ published today, Tuesday 20 November, confirms “police staff posts are being covered by police officers”, but warns “there is a risk that this is not an efficient and sustainable use of resources if adopted longer term.”

George McIrvine, chair of UNISON’s Police Committee said:

“We have been warning that up to 3,000 vital police staff jobs are under threat in the new  police service – yet police officers are being taken off the street to cover for the thousand police support staff jobs which have been lost in the last year or so.

“It is not satisfying to say ‘we told you so’ over such a crisis, but we did and we were right. Now we need the Scottish government to take action and commit to a balanced police service rather than an arbitrary target for police officer numbers.”

Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigns said:

“This report confirms not only that police officers are backfilling police staff jobs at greater cost, but expensive police overtime is increasing to plug the gaps. It also supports UNISON’s call for strategic workforce planning to avoid this appalling waste of scarce resources.

“The problem is the Scottish Government’s arbitrary target to maintain police officer numbers at 17,234. This combined with their failure to fund a balanced police service means that massive cuts will fall on police support staff – whose skills and qualifications are vital to effective policing across Scotland.

“We need a balanced workforce where the skills of police staffs enable police officers to do the job the public wants them to do, where they want them to do it. That is fighting crime, out on the streets. Using officers as expensive replacements for police staff might meet the Scottish Government’s political target – but not the needs of Scotland’s communities.”


For further information please contact:
George McIrvine, chair of UNISON’s Police Committee, on 07842 542677
Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, UNISON Scotland, on 07958 122 409
Malcolm Burns, Communications Officer, UNISON Scotland, 0141 342 2877 or 078765 66978

Notes for editors

1. As the Scottish Government has an arbitrary target to maintain police officer numbers at 17234, the focus of the savings are concentrated on police staffs. This has resulted in over 1000 police staff posts being lost already. As a consequence, police officers are taking on the work of police staffs.

2. Extracts from Accounts Commission report ‘Best Value in police authorities and police forces in Scotland’ published today, Tuesday 20 November – section on Police Staff – key parts in bold

108. Police forces have always employed a large number of police staff in addition to their police officers. The number of police staff in Scotland reached a peak in 2006/07 at 8,171. Underpinning this growth was a desire to make more efficient and effective use of resources across the police workforce. While greater operating efficiency had been a significant strategic driver for this, it is also the case that many police functions can be more effectively delivered by qualified police staff than by police officers. These include core organisational and management functions such as administration, HR, procurement, communications and marketing, information technology and forensics. Roles traditionally performed by uniformed police officers but which do not require a police officer’s power of arrest have also been increasingly ‘civilianised’ over the last decade. This includes custody and detention, forensic sciences, call handling and some crime investigation

109. Since 2008/09, police staff numbers have decreased across all forces. In 2011/12, a total of 5,718 (FTE) police staff were employed by the eight Scottish police forces, a 6.8 per cent decrease in the last year. Over the last three years the number of FTE police staff has decreased by 12 per cent. Reductions in police staff can be directly attributed to forces’ need to reduce operating costs and the range of early retirement/voluntary redundancy options that have been available to avoid compulsory redundancies.

110. The reduction in police staff numbers in 2011/12 has been accompanied by an increase in police staff overtime expenditure across Scotland. Between 2007/08 and 2010/11, the proportion of police staff overtime expenditure, as a proportion of the overall police staff salary budget, fell year-on-year from 3.0 to 1.4 per cent. However, during the last financial year overtime rose slightly to 1.7 per cent of the police staff payroll, with all but Fife Constabulary and Lothian and Borders Police experiencing growing overtime expenditure during 2011/12. Decisions to cut police staff numbers to reduce costs must take into account any indirect additional costs when calculating the likely savings which can be realised.

112. Police staff numbers will continue to be put under pressure as forces face real-term budget cuts while trying to maintain police officer numbers at or above the Scottish Government’s minimum of 17,234. It is important that the Police Service of Scotland undertakes strategic workforce planning to ensure that it makes best use of its people resources in a sustainable way, with functions carried out by people with the right skills, knowledge and experience. There are some indications that police staff posts are being covered by police officers in the short term, but at a time of continued financial pressures there is a risk that this is not an efficient and sustainable use of resources if adopted longer term.

See Accounts Commission report online here:

3. Other documents giving analysis of the police reform process and UNISON’s campaign for a balanced, modern police force – rather than cutting thousands of police staff jobs – are available on our website. For more information see UNISON’s police pages