Summit discusses Scotland's policing future

Police officers
Image caption The SPF fear police numbers in many force areas could drop to levels not seen since the mid-1990s

Concerns over the future of policing in Scotland have been raised at a meeting between officers and the four main political parties.

The Scottish Police Federation said decisions taken in the next Scottish Budget "could either maintain or break policing in Scotland as we know it".

It warned that the police budget for 2011-12 could be cut by up to £88.5m, equivalent to losing 2,808 officers.

The SPF said it was open to change but cutting officers would see crime rise.

The organisation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said it feared a projected 9% drop in the policing budget, which could mean police numbers in many force areas dropping to levels not seen since the mid-1990s.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill attended the SPF meeting in Glasgow along with Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker, Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown and Conservative MSP Bill Aitken.

'Too important'

In their invitation to the summit ahead of the draft Scottish Budget to be unveiled next month, the police body wrote that the police service was "too important to be expected to take an equal share of the pain".

The general secretary of the SPF, Calum Steele, said he welcomed the opportunity to engage with representatives from the four main parties.

He said: "This was a very important meeting that allowed for a frank and open discussion on what sort of police service there should be in the coming years and how it could be paid for.

"All of the political representatives agreed that the safety of the public must always be our number one priority."

Mr Steele had said the SPF was "very willing" to discuss ways of streamlining the police service, including the amalgamation of forces, if that could be shown to deliver the highest policing service to communities.

However, he said the quality of the service must come first.

After the meeting, he said: "All of the MSPs present at the summit recognised that policing is about more than the number of criminals we catch and that a reduction in police numbers would be a false economy.

"Crime levels would increase, as would the fear and cost of crime, and there would be a big knock-on effect on costs to the National Health Service, the courts, social work and other agencies."

'Common ground'

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said it was important to maintain a visible police presence in local communities.

He said again that it could be necessary to reduce the number of separate police forces in Scotland from the current eight.

Mr MacAskill said he would "maintain bobbies" and would rather "scrap boundaries".

Labour MSP Richard Baker said it was important to have the involvement of opposition parties.

"We should know what's being planned by the Scottish government much earlier so we can all enter a debate about the extent of these cuts," he said.

Robert Brown, of the Lib Dems, said there had been quite a lot of common ground at the summit.

He said the key was to find a way to resource policing properly during the financial crisis, and to also maintain links with other services.

Conservative MSP Bill Aitken said there should be ways to find cuts without any "diminution in any respect of the frontline service".

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