Drones have been used to cut the number of Police Scotland helicopter call-outs, it has emerged after concerns were raised.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr questioned whether the cost of sending out the force helicopter was a factor in the number of missions having dropped in recent years.

However, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) said deployment decisions were made for operational, not financial, reasons, and drones have reduced the need for helicopters.

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Police helicopter use in Scotland has fallen in the past year, according to figures obtained by the Tories via a freedom of information request.

In 2019, the aircraft have been dispatched on average 133 times per month, a five-year low and down from 153 per month in 2018.

Mr Kerr said: “It’s not cheap to send out a police helicopter and clearly the decision is being made somewhere to reduce the number of journeys it is making.

“That’s against the backdrop of an SNP Government which has not properly resourced our police service for years.

“Police helicopters play a vital role in detecting crime, so it’s extremely concerning to see an increasing reluctance to call upon that resource.”

An SPA spokesman said: “Police Scotland make decisions on deployment based on operational reasons and not on possible financial implications.

“A number of remotely-piloted aircraft have been purchased by Police Scotland to provide a wider range of flexible air support, in particular to support the search for missing people, and that will impact on the requirement of helicopter support.”

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Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “The deployment of the Police Scotland helicopter is considered on a case by case basis and our number one priority is the safety of the public.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Decisions to deploy aircraft are an operational matter for Police Scotland.

“Despite constraints on Scotland’s public services through a decade of UK austerity, policing services have been maintained and improved and since 2016-17 the annual budget for policing has increased by more than £80 million, bringing it to £1.2 billion for 2019-20.”