SCOTLAND's volunteer police officers are expected to have their allowances slashed as the new single force's budget is trimmed.

A leaked email from Police Scotland revealed plans for the special constables' £1100-a-year "recognition awards" to be either cut in half or abolished.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes branded the move mean-spirited.

Special constables work part-time but have the powers of regular officers. The Police Scotland website says volunteers "provide an excellent bridge between the police service and the public" .

In 2011, there were 1653 special constables.

Although the posts are unpaid, the officers can receive the recognition award if they complete a specified number of hours.

However, the single force, which was introduced in order to make efficiencies to the policing budgets, may be about to reduce the payments for serving specials.

An email from the Training and Development section of the force said: "During attendance at a national meeting on Friday, it was announced that Police Scotland will provide a recognition award to all existing special constables this year, however the full amount for the award will be reduced by 50% to a maximum payment of £550."

The email noted new recruits would get nothing: "New starts to the organisation will not receive the award – this will likely be special constables who join in September 2013 onward."

It continued: "The existing terms and conditions of the award scheme have yet to be altered to reflect the new position, and once this has been done a document package will be sent out and I would imagine the usual 'opt in' forms will be required to be completed."

Critics believe cutting the payments could damage the service. Ms McIness said: "Removing the recognition award will do serious damage to the range of people the police can attract. Many Special Constables will incur expenses as a result of the time they volunteer – whether that be through taking time away from their businesses, or parents who need to pay for childcare when they're on duty.

"This is nothing more than mean-spirited penny-pinching.

"Those responsible should take a long, hard look at their priorities for policing. They need to think again about making this shameful cut.

"Special constables are a hugely valuable resource for the police up and down the country. It's a pity that the decision-makers in the new force don't seem to realise their worth."

Lewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour's justice spokesman, said: "Special constables play a valuable role in keeping our streets safe and it is important that we properly acknowledge their role.

"Given the money they save the public purse through their voluntary work, it is important that they are retained and supported.

"I am not sure this is the best place to find savings if it means volunteers are driven away."

Wayne Mawson, the assistant chief constable of Police Scotland, said: "Special constables are not paid: they are valuable volunteers.

"However they may be given an 'attendance award' if they meet a specific number of hours of service per year.

"Police Scotland has a requirement to achieve significant financial savings and one of the ways we are seeking to meet these challenges is by reviewing the cost of special constables currently employed by us.

"We are still working through what the opportunities are to rationalise further savings.

"Once we have informed our special constable colleagues of the outcome we will advise them accordingly."