Office sharing on the cards for cash-strapped police force

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POLICE officers could share offices with council staff and call handlers could work at home amid growing financial pressures facing Scotland’s single force.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said there had been historically “very poor” levels of capital funding for Police Scotland during a Holyrood committee yesterday.

Officials also confirmed the force’s income has been hit by the pandemic, with a loss of around £10 million from policing private events such as football matches and concerts in the last year.

They have also had to spend an extra £6m on IT home-working equipment, cleaning and PPE for officers on patrol.

Despite asking for around £85m from the Scottish Government, the force only received £51.5m, an increase of £500,000, leaving it with £33m less than requested to help update its services and infrastructure.

The lack of capital investment will prevent decade-old computers, ageing vehicles and buildings from being upgraded, MSPs heard.

Mr Livingstone said the pandemic had also created opportunities for more remote working, which he thought could be kept in place after the crisis is over.

He said: “We have had a very poor capital allowance for an organisation of our size and our complexity … less than Shetland’s island council over the years, less than the fire service.

“I don’t have an awful lot of room for manoeuvre.

“My priority is always about health and safety and legislative compliance. That doesn’t allow us a lot of discretionary investment but more capital, and I’m hopeful that we will get that, will allow us to continue to meet the modernisation particularly around ICT (information and communications technology).”

Mr Livingstone added that he was “excited” about the prospect of adopting remote working practices once the pandemic is over for some members of staff, such as call handlers and management.

He explained: “People can be more effective in a shorter period of time where they’ve got that flexibility. I’d like to do more.

“There are some forces in England and Wales who have actually got some of their call handlers working remotely. Our technology, we can’t push that out yet so we’re still doing it through our call centres but potentially we could have that capacity.

“I’m actually quite excited about some of these changes that might come as a result of Covid, that I think will help change the culture and I think as a result will improve the service.”

The Chief Financial Officer for Police Scotland, James Gray, told the committee that the lack of funds from the Scottish Government did have tangible impacts for the day to day running of the force.

He also said the force had to spend £3.5m on PPE, £2m on overtime for staff, £1m on extra cleaning and £2.5m on IT such as laptops for home working, as well as suffering a loss in income from policing private events like football matches or concerts.

He explained: “The single biggest impact to us has been loss of income, which is close to £10m, primarily airports, and sporting events and concerts.”

The finance chief continued: “In terms of capital investment, essentially it means we’re not able to modernise and improve.

“We’re only looking to get up to a reasonable standard, we’re not looking to gold-plate anything.

“Our buildings will be safe, our vehicles will be safe, and we’ll have a core ICT infrastructure, but what we won’t do is be able to get the third of our state that’s in poor condition out of there at the rate we would like.

“We will continue to operate with desktops that are over 10 years old, and can take 10 minutes to boot up when you turn them on in the morning. It’s just inefficient.”

David Crichton, interim chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, told the committee of MSPs that the force would likely see more office-sharing in future as a cost-saving measure. He said: “Where new provision of office space is required the default position will be to look for ways of sharing that space with other public bodies and local authorities, for example.

“We have an excellent example of that in Aberdeen where an existing police facility is going to be repurposed and shared with local authorities so that that investment of capital and revenue can be spread across different users more effectively.

“We’ll be looking for that to continue as the standard approach.”

The Scottish Police Federation said there was an urgent need to invest or the force will be facing rising repair bills for sub-standard equipment and facilities for years to come.

Callum Steele, general secretary of the federation, also cautioned against moving to shared workplaces and said it could present health risks in future.

He said: “The Scottish Government settlement for policing wipes out the structural deficit that policing has been carrying for a number of years and, in that regard, it is welcome.

“That does not mean that the difficulties have, in any way, been ameliorated.

“The issue of estate replacement, vehicle maintenance and vehicle replacement, among many others, still continue to be an area of critical concern for officers.

“Unless there is some significant capital investment in these areas we’re only ever going to be dealing with a much more expensive set of repair bills on an ongoing basis, rather than replacement that is so long overdue.”

He added that the risks of moving to a shared office model “cannot be understated” and explained: “The realities of Covid, and close-proximity working have to cause the service to revisit their plans of shared facility working.

“It is strikingly obvious that the more densely populated buildings are, certainly in the pandemic world, the greater the risk of capacity and capability being wiped out.

“While these models may have been appropriate for the time it would be verging on negligent to presume that they will continue to be appropriate in the future, without at least pausing to consider what impact Covid or future pandemics could have on resilience in these kinds of workplaces.”

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