STEVIE Diamond of Unison told MSPs the union had â€œgrave concernsâ€ about the consequences of the loss of staff and officers backfilling but Sir Stephen House said the civilian cuts were necessary to meet challenging financial savings.
THE Chief Constable of Police Scotland has clashed with a trade union over the loss of civilian staff within the organisation.
Unisonâ€™s Police Staff Scotland Branch said about 450 civilian employees have been lost through early retirement and voluntary redundancy since April 1, with a â€œsignificant numberâ€ of these jobs backfilled by police officers.
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said the force had no policy to backfill staff but this had happened on â€œthe odd occasionâ€.
He said Police Scotland was committed to keeping officers on the streets, citing proposals to scrap police counters as an example of this.
Sir Stephen claimed the loss of civilian jobs was necessary to meet challenging financial savings over the coming years, but it was not the only area being targeted for cuts.
The Chief Constable was giving evidence to Holyroodâ€™s Justice Committee, which is scrutinising the Scottish Governmentâ€™s draft Budget for 2014/15.
Sir Stephen told the committee that Police Scotland faced a Â£64 million shortfall this year, but was only Â£2-3 million away from balancing its budget.
â€œI think I have always said that balancing the budget with the number of police officers we have is a challenge,â€ he said.
â€œIf you add up all our staff costs â€“ police and civilian support staff â€“ it comes to just about 90 per cent of our budget. Therefore, making savings in whatâ€™s left is always challenging.â€
Sir Stephen said the force was also looking to make savings by streamlining senior ranks, reducing the overtime budget, property and fleet costs, procurement contracts, IT and control room rationalisation.
â€œI fully understand Stevie Diamond (of Unisonâ€™s Police Staff Scotland Branch) and Unisonâ€™s concerns that weâ€™re only looking at civilian support staff. Thatâ€™s not true,â€ he said.
But Mr Diamond told MSPs that Unison had â€œgrave concernsâ€ about the consequences of the loss of police staff and the backfilling of their jobs by officers.
â€œCertainly, some proposals that have come forward from the organisation to allow us to meet those budgetary constraints this year will mean that police officers arenâ€™t going to be doing patrol work,â€ he said.
Sir Stephen responded: â€œWith the vast majority (of the 450 jobs) there is no backfilling to be done. I donâ€™t agree with Stevie on this.â€
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson pressed the issue, citing the â€œ1,200 civilian jobs which have been lost over the last two yearsâ€, and the latest plans to close counters at 65 of the countryâ€™s 214 stations.
â€œThere must be an element where these functions need to be performed by someone?â€ he asked.
â€œPresumably, although you wouldnâ€™t desire it, police officers must do this work?â€
Sir Stephen said: â€œWhen it happens, itâ€™s happening on the odd example.â€
He said there were 150 staff who work on front counters who want to leave the force under voluntary redundancy.
It would be easier, he argued, to replace these staff with police officers and keep counters open.
â€œWe would avoid all the bad press, weâ€™d keep the front counters open, and the public wouldnâ€™t be concerned â€“ and I appreciate they are concerned â€“ but that would not be the sensible thing to do,â€ he told the committee.
â€œInstead, what we are doing is we are surveying and consulting around the front counter opening hours because we donâ€™t want to backfill with police officers, we want them out on the streets.
â€œI donâ€™t believe it is a modern response. We are looking to limit any backfilling that we do.â€
He added: â€œIt is not an automatic default that if a member of support staff who is working on a front counter leaves the organisation that work is picked up by a police officer.â€
Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said she understood there were already 200 police officers currently working on reforms such as the review of police counters, but Sir Stephen said he did â€œnot recogniseâ€ this figure.
Police Scotland chief and Unison clash over loss of civilian staff across the force