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Policing not financially sustainable, warns Audit Scotland

Ninian Reid via Flickr

Policing not financially sustainable, warns Audit Scotland

Policing in Scotland is “not yet operating to a financially sustainable budget,” the public spending watchdog has warned.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) overspent by £26.6m in 2019-20 and is still unable to balance its budget, an Audit Scotland report concluded.

The report said the previous plan to achieve financial balance for 2020-21 was prefaced on a reduction to officer numbers, but this has now been scrapped following concerns about the impact of Brexit.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle has warned that without a balanced budget and workforce planning, the SPA and Police Scotland will not be able to deliver the new policing strategy.

He said: “The SPA has made progress in the past year whilst faced with the significant additional challenges of COVID-19 and preparing for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

“It is now a matter of urgency that the SPA, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government reach agreement on what needs to be done to achieve financial sustainability. Without firmer progress on the key areas of budget balance and workforce planning, the SPA and Police Scotland will not be able to deliver the ambitions of the new Joint Strategy for Policing.”

The report also concluded the SPA had improved its operations, pointing to stability in leadership and development in the capacity of its corporate functions.

The SPA has said it is working with the Scottish Government and Police Scotland moving forward to eliminate its deficit.

Interim chair David Crichton said: “The Auditor General rightly raises the ongoing financial challenges for policing. The authority’s position has been well documented and we remain of the view that the deficit is unsustainable and without an increase in core budget or a reduction in officer numbers there is no short-term route to eliminating it.

“The authority continues to engage with the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to identify options for delivering financial sustainability.” 

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