The SNP is on track to meet its manifesto commitment of 1000 extra police officers by 2011, the justice secretary insisted yesterday.

After months of opposition claims that the government would fall short of its aim, ministers have produced a projection study that estimates it will exceed the target by between 40 and 250 officers.

In March 2007 there were 16,234 officers, and the estimates in the Police Force Projection Study are for between 17,275 and 17,484 by March 2011.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he expected the figures would be welcomed by all. He said: "This study confounds the doom-mongers who said we would not meet our commitment. Police numbers are at a record high and we expect them to keep rising.

"As a government, we can determine the number of extra recruits we fund.

"The total number of police officers depends on recruitment decisions by police authorities and decisions made by individual officers about when to retire from the force.

"However, two years into government, it is now possible to accurately assess the other factors which determine the headcount and projection for 2011."

MSPs are due to debate the SNP manifesto commitment today, with a Labour motion calling for the Scottish Government to state whether the pledge still stood.

The government is now certain to reply in the affirmative. Earlier this month, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the projection study after repeated claims that the target would be missed.

Richard Baker, Labour's justice spokesman, said the projections directly contradicted what Mr MacAskill said two weeks ago, when he predicted the target would not be met.

In an interview Mr MacAskill was asked if there would be 17,234 police officers in Scotland in two years' time, to which he answered "no".

He added that there would be 1000 extra recruits, but numbers of retirals and force leavers could bring the total below the target.

Mr Baker said: "It's time that Kenny MacAskill made his mind up. He now says there will be 17,275 officers by March 2011 and I certainly hope that's true. That's what the SNP promised to deliver and that's what they'll get judged on.

"But how can anybody have any confidence in a minister that appears to be making it up as he goes along?

"One minute the Minister says no' the next he says yes'. He should act like a justice minister rather than continue with his Mebbes aye, mebbes naw' approach.

Calum Steele, the Scottish Police Federation's general secretary, said: "Whilst police recruitment is ultimately a matter for chief constables, the Scottish Police Federation is aware government is delivering the necessary funding.

"I have seen nothing in today's figures which suggests the government is not doing everything in its power to deliver those extra officers."

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