SCOTTISH police are to lose payments worth up to £5 million a year in a move branded a "hidden cutback".

In an agreement designed to avoid more swingeing cuts seen in England and Wales, officers north of the Border have agreed to give up their right to double time on public holidays except Christmas and New Year.

The deal, thrashed out in talks between the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) on one side and Police Scotland and the Government on the other, will cost officers an average of £300 a year.

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However, it will also result in six days of public holidays being replaced with nine days of annual leave, sparking concern from Labour MSP Graeme Pearson that services would be cut if holidaying officers were not available.

Mr Pearson, a former deputy chief constable and director of the now-defunct Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "This is a very complex arrangement that appears to me to be a hidden cutback.

"On the one hand, money will be saved by not paying out overtime. On the other hand, officers will have more annual leave. Will that mean empty cars or fewer officers on the street? Or will someone have to get overtime to cover for someone else with more ­holiday? It has caused real concern among the rank and file."

The SPF, however, says cutting public holiday entitlement is far better than any attack on basic pensionable pay.

SPF General secretary Calum Steele admitted the rationale for the deal may not be understood, but he said: "Take-home pay in England and Wales has been cut to save money. It has not in Scotland - although it is recognised that pension contributions have increased and wage increases have not kept pace with inflation."

A spokesman for the Scottish ­Government also insisted the Scottish deal was better. He said: "Unlike south of the Border, we will not impose changes on officers and will continue to work closely with police staff associations to discuss and negotiate terms and conditions."