Scottish police officer numbers 'to exceed target'

Police officers
Image caption The Scottish government said there had been a strong intake of new recruits

The Scottish government is set to meet a four-year pledge on boosting police strength in Scotland, despite a second successive quarterly fall in the number of officers.

In 2007, the government pledged to deliver an additional 1,000 officers by the end of its term in office.

New data from forces showed there were 17,217 officers at the end of December, a fall of 154 on the previous quarter.

But numbers are projected to exceed the government's target by May.

The Scottish government said there had been a recent strong intake of new recruits, which would boost numbers beyond the overall target of 17,234 officers.

They include 51 probationers already at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan, and 231 new recruits set to join between now and April.

Official projections indicate the target of 1,000 extra officers will be exceeded by 36 at the end of the current quarter and by 58 at the end of June.

As part of this year's local government finance settlement, the Scottish government agreed to limit council funding cuts if authorities committed to maintaining police numbers.

New recruits

The Scottish government said the latest data showed that the 1,000-officer pledge had been met and exceeded in five of the last seven quarters, and would continue to be met beyond the forthcoming election.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who visited Tulliallan College to meet new police recruits who began their training in January, said: "These figures demonstrate delivery of the 1,000 additional police officer pledge this month and beyond the forthcoming election, helping drive recorded crime to a 32-year low and reducing the fear of crime in Scotland's communities.

"Despite unprecedented cuts to Scotland's budget from Westminster, the Scottish government's agreement with councils to maintain police officer numbers has enabled Scotland's forces to restart their recruitment processes, with a burgeoning intake of new recruits at Tulliallan."

However, Scottish Labour said the latest quarterly data showed a shortfall of 48 officers on the pledge to deliver 1,000 additional police, arguing that they were the final official statistics before the Holyrood election in May.

The party also said the reduction of 154 officers in the past quarter was concerning.

Pledge 'spin'

Scottish Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "No amount of spin can hide the fact that on Scottish government figures, the police pledge has not been met. These are the final statistics before the election and Alex Salmond has come up short.

"We also know that police civilian jobs are being shed, with officers coming off the beat to cover those jobs. Officers should be on the frontline, not driving desks and this is a poor use of resources."

The Scottish Conservatives said the target of 1,000 additional police officers was a concession they had secured from the Scottish government.

Justice spokesman John Lamont said: "Although the slight drop in numbers is disappointing, we are naturally very pleased that they will rise in the next two quarters, comfortably exceeding the 1,000 target we set the Scottish government when the concession was agreed in 2008."

He added: "Had it been down to the SNP we would have only had 500, and had it been down to Labour we would have had none at all."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown commented: "The SNP are determined to keep the number of front line police officers up, but at what cost?

"We now know that to keep the number of officers on the books high, backroom staff are being let go. This means there will be fewer police on the streets.

"Budgets are tight, but this is no excuse for subtle sleight of hand. The public will still feel the effect as backroom staff are cut."

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