Jul 27 2012 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Friday
A TRADE union representative has alleged that further staffing cuts within the police force could have “serious implications” and result in officers being taken off the streets to fill ‘back office’ roles.
Central Scotland Police Chief Constable Derek Penman’s annual report, released last week, revealed that the number of full-time police staff employed by the local constabulary fell from 342 in 2010-11 to 302 the following year.
Overall, he hailed the report as “very positive” as, despite rises in some areas, recorded crime fell generally four per cent to 16,213 incidents in 2011-12.
However, in a letter to the Observer, Unison steward Raymond Farrell warned: “Although the reduction of crime and the increased detection rate is welcoming, the future may not be that bright.
“The SNP policy of 1000 extra police officers in the Scottish police service may sound good to voters but it comes at the expense of around 3000 police staff posts, which includes positions such as 999 call-takers and scene of crime officers. Police officers will have to be taken off the beat, causing a reduction of visible police presence within the local community. A recent example of this is the use of police officers as civilian custody staff.
“The benefits of police ‘civilianisation’ in the Central Scotland Police area have been award-winning and widespread. If the proposals to focus cuts on police staff go ahead this will have serious implications on current policing for all communities.
“Police officers are not trained to carry out the range of specialist tasks in a modern police force. This flexibility comes at a price; taking trained operational police officers off the streets to perform administrative tasks is economic madness.”
After alleging further cuts to police staff numbers would “turn the clock back 30 years or more”, Mr Farrell concluded: “Communities need to be aware of the importance of police staff and not be misled. As important as police numbers are, politicians are only concerned with how many police officers they have on the payroll – but it’s police staff that put officers on the streets.”
In response, Chief Constable Penman (pictured) said: “We understand the concerns of staff and Unison and firmly believe that an efficient and effective service must have a balanced workforce – this means the correct mix of police officers and police staff.
“Central Scotland Police has a proven track record in terms of ‘civilianisation’ and innovation in mixed economy working, with very few police officers working in what may be considered ‘back office’ roles. We also have a number of police staff working effectively in front-line roles.
“While the new Police Service of Scotland will face financial challenges and budget savings will need to be delivered, it will be for the new Chief Constable and chair of the new Scottish Police Authority to initially determine the optimum balance of the new workforce.
“Inevitably there will be less staff in service, but this will be achieved through not replacing those leaving the service, or through voluntary exit schemes.
“The priority will be to design and build a new service maximising efficiency in ‘back office’ functions. It would not be in the interest of the Police Service of Scotland or our communities for police officers to fulfil roles and functions previously undertaken by police staff.”
He also explained: “While Central Scotland Police reduced staff during 2011 to ensure we could continue to police our communities within a balanced budget, this was not detrimental to frontline service delivery.
“We have not used police officers to bridge the gap of reduced police staff numbers. As reported in our annual report, our performance against the priorities set by our communities has been maintained, and in some areas, improved.
“The force has previously responded to Unison’s claim about police officers working in our custody areas. In 2011 we carried out a review and, through consultation with staff, a decision was taken to put eight officers in new custody roles across the force. No existing members of police staff were made redundant and the police officers were not used to bridge gaps within existing staff.
“The force continues to look at maximising officers across the force and we regularly review where our officers should work.
“We currently have record numbers of frontline police officers and officers working in our communities.”
Local SNP communities spokesperson, Stirling East councillor Steven Paterson, said: “I recognise and welcome the contribution made to Scottish policing by support staff. However, it would be wrong not to welcome the delivery by the Scottish Government of the 1000 extra police officers it promised, which has made a hugely positive difference to policing and safer communities, and has contributed to a 35-year-low in recorded crime.
“It is important to stress that reduction in numbers of support staff is achieved by employees leaving naturally and through voluntary severance schemes. In the context of significant financial constraint caused by the severe cuts to the Scottish budget by the UK Government, it is crucial that we ensure there is no duplication as we move towards a single police service for Scotland. Preventing duplication will mean that fewer staff will be required.
“Neither I nor the Scottish Government accept that officers will be forced to carry out support roles in the new service to cover for staff.”