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Strathclyde Police ‘to lose 400 officers’

Scotland’s’s biggest police force has drawn up plans to lose 400 officers by the end of the financial year, The Herald can reveal.

Strathclyde Police aims to shed the posts as it desperately tries to fill a black hole in its budget that officials believe will top £130 million within four years.

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Chief Constable Steve House has already warned staff of dramatic cutbacks to come over the next few months -- and to be put before his ruling board on Thursday.

The Herald last week revealed that the force will seek to lose nearly one-quarter of its civilian support staff -- 600 people -- in a round of voluntary redundancies and early retirements to begin as early as next month.

But last night it emerged that the force has plans to cut the number of officers, from 8084 to 7674, in just seven months, torpedoing any hope the SNP has of ending its first term in office in May 2011 with its much-promised 1000 extra officers.

The Scottish Government had given Strathclyde enough cash to fund 465 extra officers, the force’s share of the national total. The cutbacks to go before Strathclyde Police Authority this week will mean most of that gain is lost.

The overall size of Strathclyde’s establishment will fall by 410, including 210 posts not filled because of a recruitment freeze announced earlier this summer. Strathclyde aims to make a further reduction of 200 by March 2011.

It is not clear how it will achieve this. Police officers cannot be made redundant -- although talks will resume later this year on changing those rules for men and women who have been in the job for more than 30 years.

Insiders have described the pace and scale of the proposed cuts as frightening. Les Gray, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation -- and a Strathclyde inspector -- said: “I am shocked by these figures. In the end it will be the public who pays if there are fewer officers.”

Richard Baker, Scottish Labour’s spokesman on justice, yesterday said: “The loss of more than 400 officers in Strathclyde would have a huge impact on public safety. This is especially the case if remaining police officers are expected to fulfil some of the duties of the 600 or so civilian staff to go as well.

“These massive cuts seem to be taking place incredibly quickly and I have no idea how these targets will be reached.”

Mr House and his colleagues met senior councillors last week in a private briefing that lasted four hours, at which the officers spelled out the seriousness of the financial situation at Strathclyde. Chief officers want to get some of the cuts out of the way to avoid unprecedented pain next year.

The force expects its budget to fall by 9% in 2011-12 and by a further 5% each year for the following three years.

That leaves it with a shortfall of nearly £55m next year, rising to almost £130m in 2014-2015, when it is due to police the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The total number of civilian staff by the end of the year will fall from 2554 to 1954 if plans are approved.

Unison, the union that represents non-uniformed workers, is furious. It believes the average police officer earns £41,000 and the figure for civilian staff is £28,000, with seven out of 10 workers earning less than £21,000.

Regional organiser Gerry Crawley said he believed highly paid police officers would have to be taken off the street to do the jobs of his members -- for which they are not trained. Redundancies and early retirements for civilians would cost about £32m, sources said.

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