Stephen House warns of Police Service of Scotland job losses
The newly appointed chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland has said as many as 3,000 support staff could be lost as he seeks to merge eight forces into one.
Stephen House said policing would have to cost less in the future.
But that should not affect the service the public experience, he added.
Mr House, who is currently chief constable of Strathclyde Police, also said local policing would not suffer as a result of the national force.
He highlighted tackling domestic abuse and organised crime as top priorities.
And speaking to the media at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan in Fife, he said his greatest challenge would be to improve performance while funding is falling.
He said "many, many hundreds" of support staff - and perhaps as many as 3,000 - could go.
The chief constable added: "It's difficult to be precise at this moment in time, because calculations are still being made and it depends on a lot of different factors.
"I would stress that the plan and the expectation is that much of this will happen through voluntary redundancies and early retirement packages.
"The government has said, and I think it's quite right, that we're not keen on the idea of compulsory redundancies, so we would be looking to identify jobs where there was some duplication, where we didn't need to do that work any more, and either redeploy those staff into other jobs or see if they wanted to take a voluntary redundancy package or early retirement.
"So, it's something that will be done in a co-operative and compliant way, working with the unions representing the workers."
There have been concerns that the new single force would concentrate its resources on the country's big cities, to the detriment of rural areas.
But Mr House compared it with Strathclyde, which serves more than half of Scotland's population, policing remote areas and islands including Arran and Mull as well as urban centres such as Glasgow.
"I think there is a popular concern and sensitivity amongst some quarters that coming from a force like Strathclyde, and immediately before that the Metropolitan Police, I'm a big city chief constable who has no concern or care for policing in local communities outside city areas," he said.
"Let me just try and set the record straight - I've worked in six forces, in fact Police Service of Scotland will be my seventh force - three have been relatively small county forces and much of my policing experience is in those.
"The flexibility that we deliver currently in Strathclyde speaks well for the ability of the single police service in Scotland to provide a locally tailored and flexible service which meets the needs of the community, but also takes advantage of the benefits of size and the power that will also bring.
"I don't minimise or in any way trivialise those concerns and I hope my actions over the next few years leading the organisation will prove that I will be a chief constable for the whole of Scotland and not just for parts of Scotland."
Mr House, 54, is expected to take up his role with the new unified force, which formally comes into being next April, in the autumn.
His appointment to the £208,000-a-year post was confirmed by the Scottish Police Authority on Tuesday.
He will lead the UK's second largest police force once the merger is complete, and said he believed he was worth the amount of money he will be paid.
Mr House said: "I do believe I'm worth it. Time will tell, but that £208,000 wasn't decided by myself. It was decided by a fairly precise procedure of what other people are paid in similar-sized organisations.
"It's probably at par with that level for the size of the organisation."
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has previously said there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the unified force, which will provide employment for about 6,500 support staff.
The Unison Scotland union called for action by the Scottish government to avoid the "disastrous" loss of police staff support jobs.
George McIrvine, chairman of Unison Scotland's Police Committee, said: "We have been saying that up to 3,000 vital police support staff jobs are under threat for about a year now. If Stephen House is right in what he has said today, this is just the beginning of a disaster for Scottish policing."
"Already we have seen police officers being taken off the street to cover for the thousand police support staff jobs which have been lost in the last year or so. We need the government to take action to end this unfolding disaster by committing to a balanced police service rather than an arbitrary target for police officer numbers."
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie said: "Following this announcement I hope the parliament's justice committee will interview Mr House to ascertain how he intends to achieve savings of this magnitude over that period of time."
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: "Civilian staff play an absolutely vital role in the police service. The work they do - as intelligence analysts, custody officers and community wardens - allow our police officers to spend the maximum time possible out on the beat."
A Scottish government spokesperson said: "The new service will eliminate duplication by doing things differently and working more effectively and efficiently saving £1.7bn over 15 years.
"Administrative support services - including HR, Finance and procurement - are currently duplicated across eight forces and cost over £40m per year. These can be significantly streamlined to support a single service, a single Chief Constable and one senior management team.
"It will be for the new chief constable and Scottish Police Authority, after detailed planning and transitional work, to determine the balance between police officers and police staff in the new service."