Policing in Edinburgh: public pay price for SNP cuts and mismanagement

scott arthurScott Arthur is a Scottish Labour Party member who lives in Edinburgh Pentlands. He uses links to news articles and personal experiences to tell the story of policing in Edinburgh since the formation of Police Scotland.


This week HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) concluded that Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, has the nation’s highest crime rate – 53% above the national average.  People in Edinburgh that follow the news, attend their Community Council meetings or who have spoken to a police officer will not be surprised by this.

I first became concerned about policing in Scotland when I heard of the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill.  There was something nightmarish about the story of their car crashing off the M9 and lying  in a field for 3 days with them trapped inside. What makes the story particularly worrying is the fact that the police were made aware of the incident and failed to act. The control room near Edinburgh which took the call about the M9 crash had a workforce absence rate of 10% and over half of the employees have applied for redundancy. Although the M9 incident is far more serious, it is similar to the reports that the police in Scotland no longer investigate many break-ins as it is “not a good use of time”.

This comes within the context of year-on-year cuts to Police Scotland’s budget, £64million this year alone, which resulted in the loss of around 800 police staff. The only way Sir Stephen House, the outgoing Chief Constable, could deliver the further cuts asked by the SNP Government is via what he termed “extreme measures”.

This situation is driven by the SNP decision to merge Scotland’s eight existing police forces simply to cut the policing budget. Since then several regional police control rooms have been shut to achieve redundancies. Indeed, these SNP cuts have been so successful that the Tories are thinking of emulating them.

The Police Scotland budget cuts have been exacerbated by the way in which the force was re-organised. Despite warnings from Unison and Scottish Labour, the SNP Government proceeded to implement an accounting structure which resulted in Police Scotland being billed for an additional £32m in VAT – thankfully, Ian Murray MP is working to fix this for the SNP.

To maintain police numbers and balance the budget, Police Scotland must cut administrative posts and have police officers take on more paperwork. This is not new – even before Police Scotland was formed the SNP were boasting that they’d appointed “1000 new officers”, but failed to mention that half of these officers took the place of 972 sacked civilian workers. Unison’s George McIrvine: Police officers being paid around £35,000 a year are now doing the jobs previously performed by civilian specialists on £25,000.

The impact of these cuts has not been trivial. In Edinburgh, station closures and the abandonment of anti-burglary teams has coincided with a massive spike in house break-ins. In August it was reported that there were 2480 break-ins reported to police in Edinburgh in the preceding year compared to 1953 in the previous 12 month period – a rise of over a quarter. Other reports suggest that housebreaking doubled in Edinburgh in the first three months of 2015. Keep in mind that Edinburgh (Balerno specifically) already topped the league for house break-ins and that they had already risen by 40%. 40%!

So what has changed in Edinburgh that led to an increase in burglaries? For starters, 10 police stations were closed. My nearest police station (Oxgangs) has been replaced with a weekly one hour session in a local library – this serves tens of thousands of people in Colinton, Bonaly, Oxgangs, Firrhill, Swanston, Buckstone, Fairmilehead, Dreghorn and Redford barracks and a substantial part of the Pentland Hills Regional Park. Since this station was closed, my neighbour was burgled and there have been several more people have been targeted in the area.

In addition to reducing the profile of law enforcement in Edinburgh, Police Scotland also made a series of changes which Ian Murray MP termed “Glasgowising“. This saw methods of policing tried and tested in Edinburgh rejected for a “one size fits all” Scotland-wide approach. A key move in Edinburgh was to disband the dedicated housebreaking team only to re-establish it, due to public outcry, in December 2013 as “Operation RAC”. Although the police have worked tirelessly, progress has been slow due to the amount of ground that was lost when the housebreaking team was disbanded.

HMICS recognise in their report that other aspects of tried and tested policing were not transferred to Police Scotland when the SNP abolished Lothian and Borders Police: “issues affecting Edinburgh division have arisen because many of the specific demographics and challenges that come with being the capital city were not recognised when Police Scotland was introduced”. These “specific demographics and challenges” cost Edinburgh 84,552 police officer hours, or 55 officers every day.

Whilst progress in dealing with house break-ins has been slow, the general crime clear up rate has been taking huge steps backwards. Like much of the western world, general crime in Scotland has fallen substantially. However, even police Scotland concede that their clear-up dates are not improving significantly. Indeed, the average police officer is now clearing up about eight crimes per year, down from 12 per year since the SNP was elected. Furthermore, HMICS are clear that Edinburgh has Scotland’s lowest rate of detection falling from 41.7% in 2012-13 to 35.4% last year.

Responding to public concern, both Ian Murray MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP have made repeated calls for a return to locally accountable policing in Edinburgh. Despite also having their budget cut by the SNP Government, Edinburgh’s Labour led council has set aside £2.8m to fund gaps in policing in Edinburgh. The money funds 41 officers to work closer to communities. Labour’s Councillor Cammy Day is clear: “It’s what people have asked for. They need to know who they can talk to and who is their local contact, so having the named officers will really help”. Indeed, HMICS recognise that a return to local policing is the solution as they have asked Police Scotland to ensure there are “sufficient officers and community policing roles” across Edinburgh.

The top-down changes to policing are not unique to Edinburgh. The summer has seen controversy over armed policing, real concern about the abuse of stop and search powers and a collapse in police morale. In July the SNP Government was referred to the UN by the Scottish Human Rights Commission over the use of stop and search powers.

Throughout all of this the SNP Government asserted that these are “operational matters” which Police Scotland should address, but failed to accept it was time to look again at how policing is funded and organised in Scotland. The catalyst for change proved to be the deaths on the M9. This ultimately forced Sir Stephen House, the Police Scotland Chief Constable, to resign. Immediately following this the SNP gave into pressure and committed to an overhaul of how Scotland’s national police force is run and said the new Chief Constable would have to attend “local public scrutiny sessions”. Time will tell what this actually means.

Scottish Labour has consistently raised concerns about the oversight, funding and operation of Police Scotland. A key voice has been Graeme Pearson MSP, Labour’s Justice spokesman and former “top cop”. He has raised concerns about political oversight of Police Scotland, in particular the claim by the Scottish Police Federation that “targets designed to give politicians control over police activity” were at the centre of much of the difficulties. Pearson has undertaken to complete his own independent review of policing in Scotland and is holding meetings around Scotland to speak to rank and file officers, civilian staff, community groups and victim support staff. The review will look at: local accountability, relationship between Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and SNP ministers; staffing; and, targets.

I am hopeful that Graeme Pearson’s analysis, together with the report published by HMICS, will put real pressure on the SNP Government to review the organisation and funding of policing in Scotland. Their aim must be to return to locally accountable policing, and to begin the work of rebuilding morale in the force and increasing public confidence.

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23 thoughts on “Policing in Edinburgh: public pay price for SNP cuts and mismanagement

  1. Scott enjoyed reading your comment here’s a wee bit of feedback. The law of averages is that there will always be an area at the top of any crime table in this case its yours, the big picture is that a national police force in Scotland has resulted in the lowest crime levels in over 40 years and cutting out the Chief of Police officers whilst protecting the frontline officers on the beat has protected jobs. It is sad when anybody uses a tragedy as you and the Scottish Labour section have done for political gain, as for Ian Murray and the £32 million on VAT he was a bit late jumping on the coatails of the SNP who had previously raised this issue long before him in the Scottish Parliment and at Westminster. Maybe if Ian Murray started to acknowledge that the the VOW is not being delivered instead of denying it then he would be credible even the architect of the VOW Gordon Brown has said that the VOW is not being delivered and that it could lead to Scotlands Independence.

    1. Hey Will. Your statement “a national police force in Scotland has resulted in the lowest crime levels in over 40 years” is a lie. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest the single force is responsible for what is, as the piece notes, a trend across the entire Western world. Please at least try to be honest.

      And the SNP were warned of the VAT problem and chose to store it up as a grievance to use against the UK, rather than address it at the time they made their plans.

      1. Hi Duncan,

        I am glad to say that I am not telling lies I am only reporting what the BBC says in their headline on the BBC NEWS webpage see it below.

        “Crime in Scotland at lowest recorded level in 40 years”

        The link for the page is below and dont worry Duncan I accept your apology we all make mistakes.


        1. No Will. Your lie, as I said, was the claim that “a national police force in Scotland has resulted in ” those figures. That claim is simply not true. There is no evidence to suggest the introduction of the national police force has resulted in these crime figures. Crime is falling across the Western world. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. You’re punting a fallacy.

          1. Hi Duncan,

            Maybe you can follow my reasoning it goes like this:-

            There is a country called Scotland (TRUE) in this country called Scotland they have a National Police Force (TRUE) Crime is at its lowest levels in 40 years (TRUE) The BBC reports this as a fact (TRUE) so there you go Duncan its all (TRUE) and anyway Will never tells porkies (TRUE).

        2. Sexual crimes up 12% burglaries in lothian going through roof.scotland worst place in Europe for assaults .and you think this is good? It is well known snp are not counting all crimes .The vow oh the vow.i wouldn’t give snp any more powers .

          1. I never said it was good I just highlighted that the levels are getting lower and that means less than before and the SNP know there is more to do and that’s what they are doing so I think it is better to support them rather than bleating.

    2. Will,
      Thanks for reading it!

      Both your points are pretty standard responses which the SNP always give – that’s why I covered them in the blog! 😉

      Policing is broken – let’s fix it!


      1. Scott, your welcome I found your comment very interesting with a lot of information and criticism but what was missing was any constructive ideas as how to improve policing, all this talk about a Pearson review is a case of all talk no action and anyway how can a Labour MSP report done by a Labour MSP be classified as independent. I suggest that Scottish Labour section should consider raising any new ideas for improving policing with the SNP and I am sure that they would be happy to have a look at them it is far better to work with the SNP so as to improve policing for the people of Scotland than against them.

        1. Will,
          Labour have been “raising any new ideas for improving policing with the SNP” for months. Local accountability has been their key demand – that is now backed by HMICS… and perhaps even the SNP!


      2. This is all sadly typical of Labour these days. Scottish policing is not “broken” nor is it “in crisis”. There have always been peaks and troughs in crime statistics which opposition politicians can use to blow their own trumpets.
        Housebreaking in Edinburgh is a good example. There was a spate of housebreakings in the city about a year ago, caused mainly by two or three active gangs operating at the same time. A lot of these were break-ins to garden huts which all added to the housebreaking figures which Scott has reproduced above. A number of strategies were developed under operation RAC and before long arrests were made mainly, as it turned out, because of meticulous forensic work. Low and behold, housebreaking figures plummeted leading to this article in the Edinburgh Evening News just two months ago: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/crime/police-say-housebreaking-falls-by-58-per-cent-1-3860548.
        Not surprisingly the 58% fall in housebreaking was missed by Scott, tucked away as it was, in the front page headlines of his local newspaper.
        Crime is a serious issue and deserves grown-up analysis.

        1. Stewart,
          Thanks for reading my blog. I do say in the text that progress is being made and fully welcome this. 3 points:
          1. Why was Operation RAC needed? Because tried and tested methods were rejected and crime climbed as a result.
          2. The HMICS state quite cleary that crime in Edinburgh is higher than average and detection is lower – not a good thing.
          3. Despite operation RAC house breaking climbed by 20% last year.

          You may be happy with this, but I am not!

          1. Scott, thank you for admitting that the SNP government is making progress. That’s quite an achievement when our spending on areas like policing has been cut by about 10% in real terms thanks to Westminster austerity. However your headline “Policing in Edinburgh: public pay price for SNP cuts and mismanagement” suggests you intended to have a go at the SNP. Thank you for clarifying.
            If by “tried and tested method” you are referring to this mythical “specialist house-breaking detection squads” then I’d like to see more details. Cameron Rose was running with this idea at the end of 2014 but all the senior cops I spoke to about them didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, certainly over recent years.”Maybe they were a response to a spate of housebreakings” one suggested.
            Above, Duncan Hothershall calls Will “a liar” for suggesting that Police Scotland and the fact that crime in Scotland is at a 40 year low might have a causal link. Its a fair point but it could equally be used against your “links” here. You suggest that housebreaking rose “Because tried and tested methods were rejected” in favour of Operation RAC.
            Really? Prove the link.
            The fact is that housebreaking rates fluctuate for lots of reasons. The rates in Edinburgh through the 70s, 80s and 90s were far greater than they are now. The members of the notorious Drylaw Team in the late 80s probably outnumbered all the active housebreakers in the city and its surrounds today. AND L&B’ Serious Crime Squad and its Scottish Crime Squad refused to co-operate with each other. And don’t get me started on Fettesgate!
            Of course we should always seek improvements in our policing services but your article is too crass and daft to inform the current debate, which is a pity because some of the recent articles on this site, like the latest one on Trident and a couple on Named Persons, have been pretty good.

  2. Hi Scott:

    Forgive me if I don’t understand the 53% figure as it’s not mentioned in the online Daily Record version which you link to (though you might be better linking to the HMICS report at http://tinyurl.com/hmics-report).

    Looking at crimes in all groups 1-7 I figure that the Edinburgh crime rate is actually 14.33% higher than the Scottish average from the HMICS report rather than the 53% which you highlight.

    Where am I going wrong?

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thanks for reading! The 53% number is from this: “The capital city has the highest number of recorded crimes per 10,000 of population at 738.2, well above the national average of 481.2.”

      1. Ahh so it is. Thanks for the polite reply Scott, that’s much appreciated in this sort of forum.

  3. Thanks for sharing your SNP-BAD/Policing scrapbook. I feel its selective nature says rather more about your own obsession than it does about the reality of Policing in Scotland. Policing in England’s multi-force set up has all the problems you try to imply are Scotland’s alone, only far worse. Do you not think “austerity Britain” has more to do with it than SNP-BAD policies? The Scottish govt only has so much to spend and, so far, all Labour can come up with in opposition is to demand they spend more of it on everything. Do you not think people can see the lack of credibility in that kind of stance?

      1. Your link does not really back up your assertions of Scottish Policing being in “crisis”. According to it, Edinburgh has specific problems which it is dealing with and things are moving in the right direction.

        If Policing in Scotland is in better shape than that in England, despite us being in the same “unitary” state, then surely the Scottish govt must be doing something right.

        What would Labour do differently and how would you fund it? These are the questions your party avoid in favour of carping from the sidelines. Unless you address them, the sidelines are where you’ll stay.

        1. Pony,
          two points:
          1. I did not say policing is in “crisis” – you did.
          2. If there are no problems in Police Scotland, why were the SNP forced to start a review?
          3. Labour have been clear about what should change (see above) – there should be more local accountability.

          Please stop “carping from the sidelines” and start demanding better public services in Scotland!

          1. Sorry Scott, but if you don’t think Scottish Policing is in “crisis”, what is the point of your ” scrapbook”? Every point is an attempt to instill a sense of “crisis” in the reader and to deny is not only disingenuous, it brings your credibility into question.

            If Labour’s only solution is to go back to the way things were before then, again, they are showing a complete lack new ideas and thinking. Fine, turn back the clock. Then what? You will be left with the problems the single force is solving. What are Labour’s solutions to those problems … nothing?

            Where is the money coming from? Remember, Labour are currently calling for more money to go into health, education, local govt and … well … everything. But the money available to fund these things has fallen by 10% in the last few years.

            Labour have been doing nothing but moan for years now. No fresh ideas, no real solutions. Things aren’t perfect in all areas of public life in Scotland and they never will be. That’s just reality. But at least the SNP are trying to move things forward. Considering virtually everything is FAR better than it was under the last Labour administration at Holyrood (despite “austerity Britain”), you will be hard pushed to convince people Labour are a viable alternative.

  4. Today Edinburgh is top of a “quality of life” survey covering the UK. Yes, the entire UK!
    Low crime figures, high disposable income, fast average broadband speed etc, etc.
    Edinburgh policing, compared to, say, the Met. Who shoot innocent people. Cover up crimes of a sexual nature. Who sell stories to the media—-and gangsters. Who fit up students on demos,( with vocal support from Cameron). Who infiltrate protest groups under pretence. I could go on, but you see the picture being painted.
    Police Scotland’s record, taken in context, is nothing like the picture put out by Labour and their media allies.

    1. Hi Gavin,
      Yes, we should be grateful the police in Scotland are not killing innocent people (I will not mention Sheku Bayoh).

      The reality is that police everywhere make mistakes. Pretending that Scotland is any different does nobody any favours.

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