POLICE leaders have questioned the SNP's flagship commitment to keeping 1000 more officers than they inherited in 2007.

The body representing the national force's frontline operational commanders says its members are paying the price for maintaining numbers above a "political" 17,234.

The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (Asps) issued its warning ahead of its annual conference on Wednesday.

Its president, Niven Rennie, will criticise the 1000 extra officers policy in front of Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Rennie said: "I look forward to hearing Mr Matheson's views on the increased workload that is currently being carried by our members."

"Superintendent numbers have been cut by a quarter since the Police Service of Scotland was formed on 1 April 2013.

"With greater spans of command and little discernible change in the operating model, evidence suggests that the burden being placed on our members is having an adverse effect on their health and wellbeing."

"Whist I particularly welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to maintaining officer numbers across all ranks - I believe that the desire to maintain these numbers when allied to a substantial reduction in budget does not equate".

"17,234 comes with a price tag. You cannot retain numbers and strip out everything else - it just doesn't make sense".

"With a reduction in numbers and the removal of back office support, my members are paying that price in the hours they are working and the demand they meet."

Mr Rennie argues that several successive surveys have shown supers and chief supers are under huge stress, with four out of five of them working more than 50 hours a week.

While overall officer numbers have held above 17234 there are now just 170 supers and chief supers, compared with 213 two years ago.

Members of the rank, Mr Rennie, said are frequently left without clerical support while in charge of areas that used to be entire forces in their own right.

Asps, however, will not give Mr Matheson the reception that Theresa May got at the Police Federation in England and Wales last week.

The creation of the national police force in Scotland has shielded Scottish officers from the dramatic cuts that have massively reduced officer numbers south of the border.

Sir Stephen House, who has said he will stand down next year, last month contrasted the health of policing under the SNP to that under then Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition south of the Border.

He said: "I would not want to be policing in England right now. They have got terrible headaches.

"They are under sustained pressure.

"We have to appreciate that the Scottish Government has been extremely supportive of policing. We have not been the subject of the sustained pressure that has faced forces in England and Wales."

Sir Stephen is, however, facing cuts, if not as severe as those elsewhere in the UK. He has warned of "extreme measures" to make his budget balance this year.

Police insiders hope the Scottish Government can lift VAT imposed on the new national force when it was created. This would help take some of the pressure off Sir Stephen's budget.

Mr Rennie, ahead of his conference, repeated the call.

Speaking of the pressure on his members, he said: "I also acknowledge that the imposition of VAT on the police service of Scotland by the Westminster government is a major contributory factor to this situation. It is indefensible that we are the only police organisation in the United Kingdom to have this burden added to its costs."

Asps is holding its conference at Police Scotland's official HQ and training centre, at Tulliallan, in Kincardine, Fife.