Police Scotland and SPA launch Policing 2026 draft strategy for policing in Scotland
Police - Image credit: Ninian Reid via Flickr
Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) have launched their draft 10-year plan for policing in Scotland for public consultation.
Published today, Policing 2026 set outs some of the challenges facing policing over the next decade, including budget cuts, increasing cyber crime, an aging population and even flooding, while setting out the priorities for the next decade.
Marking a move away from what Chief Constable Phil Gormley described as a “narrow assessment of success” based solely on officer numbers and crime figures, with a “wider community role” for police than just crimefighting, something that has been highlighted recently in Police Scotland figures that four out of five incidents dealt with by police don’t result in a crime being recorded.
He said: “It is becoming clear that a narrow assessment of success, predicated simply on crime figures, officer numbers and cost savings, no longer represent the true test of an effective police service capable of meeting the challenges of the future.”
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The plan is being billed as the next stage in the transformation of Scottish policing following the merger of regional forces in 2013, and a drop in frontline police numbers is planned for the first time since the single force was formed.
While officer numbers will remain the same in 2017/18, there is expected to be a reduction of 400 police officers by 2020.
Maintaining the number of officers at 17,234, 1,000 above 2007 levels, had been which had been an SNP commitment for nine years, but was not in the 2016 SNP manifesto.
According to both the Justice Secretary and Police Scotland, this will give more flexibility to shape the workforce to deal with changing demands, such as cyber crime and mental health, which could benefit from work by civilian experts.
Savings will also be necessary to address predicted budget shortfalls over the next few years.
Launching the plan, SPA chair Andrew Flanagan said it would “challenge the traditional accepted view of what policing does, and also what good looks like.”
He noted that it was “immediately obvious” that the priority in the early years of Police Scotland had been on maintaining operational policing and delivering the immediate costs savings from the merger of legacy forces.
Some innovation had taken place, he said, but “by and large, one did not need to delve too deeply to find operations relatively unchanged from the individual legacy organisations.”
“Amalgamation had taken place but not a transformation into a truly national organisation or single service,” he said.
He continued: “I have no doubt that this was the right approach but it was increasingly clear that if we were to meet the changing needs of society and the changing nature of crime, while remaining financially sustainable, then we needed a clear vision and direction for the service which embraced these changes and transformed the service to meet these challenges.”
Referring to budget pressures, Gormley noted the concern that now initital savings had been made, the “year-to-year imperative to balance the books” risks becoming the “primary driver of activity” rather than the quality of service.
Addressing the criticism that police officers had been left doing admin instead of frontline work, he said that police numbers had been at historic highs but some officers had been filling corporate roles rather than community ones.
While there was “no conscious policy” of officers filling staff posts, but there is a “risk of temporary placements becoming semi-permanent solutions,” he said.
Gormley confirmed there would be no compulsory redundancies and officer numbers would only reduce as productivity increased through the transformation programme.
He said: “There will be no change to the number of police officers next year, but as operational productivity increases we will reduce the levels of recruitment over 2018-20.
“Our corporate services and business support functions will be leaner and operate with fewer people as they are transformed. We will support staff though that process with a continued commitment to consultation, no compulsory redundancies and retraining where possible.”
Commenting on the launch of the draft strategy, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “I welcome the work to develop the draft strategy for public consultation, to ensure Police Scotland keeps pace with the changing nature of crime and of society.
“I am particularly pleased to see the service’s commitment to increase its operational capacity in critical areas.”
He added: “I am grateful to our police officers and civilian counterparts for the work they do day in, day out and their continued commitment to working with the wider public sector, other partners and communities to strengthen their service to the public.
“I urge all those with an interest to have their say on this next phase of policing in Scotland and look forward to seeing the final strategy at the end of consultation, when I will further update Parliament.”
Scottish Labour justice spokesperson James Kelly said leadership was needed to make sure the controversies that have affected the force were not repeated and highlighted the necessity of making sure there was the right balance of staff.
He said: “This consultation must be the start of an open and honest debate on how we deal with the changing nature of crime and what sort of police force we have and need in Scotland.”
The Lib Dems called for “fundamental reform” of how the force operates, while the Scottish Conservatives called for assurances that any changes would not put public safety at risk.
Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: “It’s absolutely imperative these planned changes do not deplete the frontline of policing in Scotland.”
The consultation on the draft strategy is open for 10 weeks until 8 May.