The SNP and the mystery of the vanishing bobbies

THE Scottish Government suffered a major and embarrassing setback yesterday when Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, admitted his long-awaited plan to put an additional 1,000 police on Scotland's streets might not deliver a single extra officer.

The SNP came to power in May promising to create 1,000 "new" police officers.

But yesterday, Mr MacAskill explained that these would not all be "new" officers. Instead, the 1,000 officers would be made up from 500 new recruits and 500 redeployed from other duties or brought out of retirement.

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However, Mr MacAskill went further and conceded that, because there are 2,300 officers due for retirement in the next four years, he could not guarantee that the ranks of the Scottish police force would swell by a single officer in the next four years, even if he meets his recruitment targets.

Mr MacAskill's plan to deliver 1,000 officers "in the community" now rests on the ability of police boards and chief constables to persuade ageing officers to stay on in their jobs for a little longer.

The justice secretary said: "We are looking at them [the police boards] to make sure that we don't go below the level we are at at the present moment. That will be a matter for them."

However, Mr MacAskill refused to concede that he was breaking a manifesto commitment.

He said: "You don't collect police officers like toy soldiers, you don't have a bragging contest about the precise number you have if they are located behind desks or doing needless jobs.

"What matters is delivering and we are delivering 1,000 new officers into our communities through recruitment, retention and redeployment, and we believe that all three are equally important."

He added: "What we are delivering is 1,000 officers into our communities that were not there before - they are additional officers in our communities.

"They may not have been in the police force, they may have been due to retire, they may have been elsewhere behind a desk, but we are getting 1,000 officers into our communities."

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Opposition politicians described the announcement as a "betrayal" and a "broken pledge" by the Scottish Government.

Bill Aitken, the Scottish Conservatives' justice spokesman, said: "[The SNP] have finally admitted this key manifesto pledge was a con.

"Protection of the public should be the first duty of any government. For the SNP, it is the first promise they have broken. That is shameful."

Nicol Stephen, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, described the announcement as a "complete sham" and accused Nationalists of breaking a "crystal-clear" election promise.

He added: "The justice secretary's plans rely on persuading police officers due for retirement to stay on, yet his announcement today exposes that he has no strategy to implement that proposal, just a review."

Pauline McNeill, justice spokeswoman for Scottish Labour, said the Nationalists' plans were a "betrayal" of people across Scotland.

She added: "Before the election, the SNP said very clearly that they would recruit an extra 1,000 police officers. Now, less than six months into government, they admit they will only hire half of this.

"Given that many people will have voted SNP because of their promise to recruit 1,000 police, the SNP must now urgently explain why they will not do this."

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Police officers were cautiously optimistic about the recruitment of 500 new officers, but sceptical about the level of possible redeployment.

Joe Grant, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said there was a certain amount of office work, such as the tracking of paedophiles, that has to be done by trained police officers.

"There is a potentially small number of police officers who would be released from that kind of thing [administrative work]," he said.

"That is something that has been worked on for the last 20 years and so we think the scope for that is very limited.

"[And] before you civilianise, you have to be careful you are not damaging some other part of the service."

Andrew Cameron, Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, was, however, more positive.

Mr Cameron said the police were "almost overwhelmed" with the demands linked to responding to incidents and carrying out the paperwork that comes with modern-day policing.

He said the police were keen to see more "civilianisation" to free up officers to patrol the communities, and added that technology such as electronic notebooks could be used more effectively in order to save time on bureaucracy.

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"We will set out plans in our first budget for Scotland for 1,000 more police." SNP manifesto May 2007

"We will set out our commitment to putting the equivalent of 1,000 extra officers on the streets." Alex Salmond, 5 October, 2007

"We will deliver an additional 1,000 police officers in our communities through increased recruitment, improved retention, and redeployment." Alex Salmond, 25 October, 2007

"We have made a clear commitment to deliver a more visible policing presence... The first step of this work will be the recruitment of 500 new officers. " Kenny MacAskill, 12 November, 2007


LESS than 10 per cent of Scotland's police force is available for front-line duties at any one time, according to the Scottish Police Federation.

However, the Scottish Government aims to turn this around by redeploying officers caught up in bureaucracy to the front-line.

Andrew Cameron, the Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, said this could be achieved by giving civilians more of the routine administrative work.

His force is already employing civilians as "police custody and security officers" to guard and process prisoners and will soon be recruiting "civilian investigators" to help detectives with the paperwork behind investigations.

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However, Joe Grant, of the police federation, said paperwork had already been minimised so police can spend as much time as possible on the beat.

Mr Grant said civilian work was at a maximum, had to be supervised by trained officers and must not be at the expense of police expertise or public safety.

He pointed out that in the last ten years there has been a 60 per cent rise in support staff but only an 8 per cent rise in actual police.


UNDER the Scottish Government plans, 500 new police officers will be recruited over the next four years.

A total of 150 new officers are being recruited this year with 150 in 2008-9, 100 in 2009-10 and another 100 in 2010-11. It costs about 35,000 to train or employ a police officer for a year. This figure includes pay, pension contributions, training and equipment. This means the Scottish Government has to find 3.5 million every year for every 100 new officers. To meet this bill, the government has set up a fund of 54 million for the next three years.

This will pay for all the 500 new recruits and provide a few million on top to allow the police training college at Tulliallan to cope with the influx.


THE biggest problem facing the Scottish Government in its bid to increase police numbers is the retirement rate of serving officers.

A total of 2,300 officers are in line for retirement in the next four years, much more than normal.

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Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, wants to persuade as many of those officers as possible to delay their retirement date or to work on a more flexible, or part-time basis.

Strathclyde Police already operates a limited bank of part-time officers which the force can turn to for help, and Mr MacAskill said similar schemes could be rolled out around the country.

Other possible solutions include offering better pay and flexible hours or less physically demanding roles.

The numbers that don't add up

16,240 The current number of police officers in the Scottish police service.

35,000 The cost of recruiting, training, equipping, employing and providing a pension for one officer for one year.

2,300 The number of serving police officers due to retire in the next four years.

54 million The amount set aside by the Scottish Government to pay for the recruitment of 350 new officers in three years.

5.25 million The amount being spent by the Scottish Government on 150 new officers this year.

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1,000 The number of "new" officers which the SNP promised to deliver in its election manifesto.

500 The number of new officers planning to recruit over the next four years.

500 The number of officers which the SNP Government wants to deploy on front-line duties, using redeployment and retention.

3.2 billion The amount of money the SNP promised to save in efficiency savings in government, some of which will have to be used by police forces on the redeployment and retention of their officers.