If Stephen House was not aware of the political sensitivities in his new job as Chief Constable, it was brought sharply into focus at his first press conference. When asked how many police staff jobs would have to go to meet the savings target, he gave an honest answer of up to 3000. Hardly surprising as this number is taken from ACPOS papers he would have seen and in evidence to the Scottish Parliament. His problem is that the Scottish Government has described these numbers as exaggerated in response to UNISON highlighting them. You can therefore imagine the St Andrew’s House spin doctors going into overdrive before his next interview!
The first batch of these job losses are revealed in Paul Hutcheon’s article in today’s Sunday Herald. Far from simply removing headquarters duplication this paper reveals wholesale cuts in front line roles. The posts to go include police station front offices, forensic, custody staff and control room operators. Most of them are to be replaced by police officers taken off their current operational roles, at twice or sometimes more than three times the salary. As the new centralised police force will have a duty of best value, this will take some squaring.
His next interview with Newsnight Scotland got him into further deep water with the spin doctors. He confirmed, absolutely honestly, that he was under a political target to maintain police numbers at 17234. As police officers make up 75% of the budget and civilians only 15%, that means almost all the cuts have to fall on civilian staff. The 10% procurement budget has limited scope for further cuts. When you have to lose almost half the civilian staff posts, job substitution is inevitable. It is somewhat ironic that in the week The Sweeney makes a return to our cinema screens, Scotland’s police will be heading right back to that era.
Then we have the big lie. SNP MSPs have been told to say there will be no political interference, and as the Sunday Herald article repeats, "It will be for the new chief constable and the Scottish Police Authority to determine the balance between police officers and police staff in the new service." Oh no it won’t. If the SPA has to save £1.7bn and it cannot touch police officers, it can’t decide any balance. It can only put round pegs into square holes and hope for the best. We can only give credit to the Chief Constable for also making the implications of the political target very clear in his interview.
I don’t begrudge Stephen House his impressive new salary. As his first week shows, he will earn it. Sadly, he is also learning that straightforward honest answers to questions don’t always match with his political master’s spin. Welcome to the new world of Scottish policing!