Just over three years into the single force model, Police Scotland is facing a significant financial challenge.
This year’s budget is unlikely to meet the costs of delivering the service. Yet further budget cuts are planned.
The single force was intended to save money on the previous eight-force setup – some £1.1 billion over 15 years – and improve the service to the public. Satisfaction may well be taken from falling crime figures but underneath this surface of recorded crime lies a growing problem.
Crime types are changing, becoming more complex and harder to get ahead of. Criminals have evolved faster than the police have, exploiting advances in digital technology so that the internet is arguably the biggest enabler of crime in the UK. Most crimes will now have some form of cyber footprint. Many of these will reach internationally, across geographic and cultural borders and have a complexity officers even ten years ago would not recognise.
We don’t yet know the scale of it, but an indication from England and Wales is that almost half of all crime now has a cyber element. The police and its partners are only just scratching the surface of this.
Demand for many policing services that are unseen is also increasing. Fewer than 20 per cent of all calls to Police Scotland lead to a crime report. The vast majority are more akin to health, social care and other public services such as missing people and mental health. Meanwhile, the UK terrorism threat level remains at “severe”.
The reality is there are more demands on policing than ever and we do not have the capacity to deal with the continual growth and diversification of crime, incidents and calls in 2016. It’s too simplistic to say crime is down and therefore policing is working.
Dealing with this are ever-stretched, ever-pressured officers and staff who are working exceptionally hard to protect communities. Our officers – my members in the superintending ranks, but also those they lead – are dedicated to public service and so they work excessive hours, take work home and sometimes go without leave to meet demand. We underestimate at our peril the impact on them of increased demand and the strain of managing high risks with diminishing resources.
Police Scotland has recognised the landscape is changing and instigated a review of its operating model against a ten-year vision for the future. This is intended to transform the force so it can deal with the challenges ahead of new and complex crime types. This review needs to be driven by service delivery, demand and staff welfare in parallel with the appropriate budget.
I recognise that money is tight and there are competing demands, and the service cannot have a free rein on funding.
But in order to be properly fit for the future I believe any further reductions in the force budget should be suspended until present and future demand is understood enough to inform consideration of appropriate funding.
I am urging those in charge of funding policing to “put their foot on the ball”, take stock of where policing is, and look at innovative ways of transforming this unique public service with a suitable and affordable budget.
Only this way will we continue to have a modern and world-class police service that is capable of keeping the public safe both now and in the future.
Gordon Crossan is president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents