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The case for restraint in senior police officers' pay

Good timing, they say, cannot be taught:

you either have it or you do not. Apparently Scotland's assistant chief constables (ACCs) are not thus blessed. The Herald reports today that these senior Police Scotland officers have negotiated pay rises of more than £10,000 at a time when civilian staff employed by the police service are facing another round of redundancies and when those who remain are having to accept below-inflation pay rises of just 1%.

Labour have called the timing of the salary increases insensitive and they are right. This generous pay award means that those of ACC rank will be taking home the value of a brand new car on top of their existing pay, at a time when the support staff the service relies on to function are watching their salaries shrink in real terms. It creates a "them and us" division, which is unhelpful in any workplace.

The issue is not so much whether or not ACCs deserve to be paid at the higher rate; by comparison with other senior staff in the public sector and taking into account their responsibilities, they probably do. It is a question of whether this is the right moment to take the award.

As a matter of fairness, it would not seem unreasonable to expect these high ranking officers to defer the rises or at the very least introduce them in a staggered manner. While the individuals concerned might point out that the overall pay bill for high ranking officers has fallen since Police Scotland was formed, that will probably not count for much with less fortunate staff. A show of restraint by at least some of those in positions of authority at Police Scotland would no doubt win them added respect among lower ranking employees, including other officers.

There is no question that the jobs ACCs do are highly demanding and that their duties have grown since the force was unified. Their pay should reflect that. Their responsibilities, some for territorial zones and others for areas of crime, are daunting, and include major crime and public protection; organised crime and counter terrorism; and local policing across huge tranches of Scotland.

When the new single unified police service was set up, the chief constable and deputy chiefs were given big pay rises while the six staff of ACC rank were not, so it could be argued that their pay had fallen behind by comparison. The new arrangement sweeps away anomalies and strips out bonuses so they are all getting the same, which, again, makes sense.

Even so, Scotland's ACCs are on a higher salary than any in the UK outside the Metropolitan Police, where salaries carry a London weighting. While in principle that may be fair, it does not look good at a time of austerity.

Police support staff are both frequently overlooked when public praise is being handed out and the easiest targets politically when budget cuts are required in the police service. As an act of solidarity and in appreciation of their efforts and ongoing below-inflation pay rises, Scotland's ACCs should show more restraint than to rush through this hefty pay rise all at once.

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