SCOTLAND’S most senior police boss has warned that officer numbers could be cut next year after the force deals with an “unprecedented period of demand” to staff Euro 2020 matches and the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Police Scotland currently has 17,234 officers, but Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told MSPs yesterday that reducing numbers this year would have been “imprudent to say the least” due to special demand on the force.

Police Scotland is set to draft in officers from across the UK in order to manage the COP26 climate conference in November – with costs, to be footed by the UK Government, expected to reach £250 million.

The Chief Constable warned the force would still have a deficit to contend with in the upcoming financial year despite extra cash being awarded in the budget agreement between the Scottish Government and Green MSPs.

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He added: "We still don't truly know the consequences of the exit from the European Union.”

He said the force expected to have an operating deficit of about £36 million in 2020-21 - underwritten by ministers.

Underspend from other areas of Government will mean Police Scotland should be able to receive further cash later in the year, MSPs were reassured.

The budget deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens, agreed on Wednesday, will result in Police Scotland’s funding increasing to more than £1.2 billion next year - a rise of £60 million from this year.

Mr Livingstone said: "The budget figures that were announced will still leave an operating deficit within the police budget going forward for 2020-21.

HeraldScotland: Chief Constable of Police Scotland Iain LivingstoneChief Constable of Police Scotland Iain Livingstone

"I think it is in the region, in revenue terms, of £36 million."

Mr Livingstone warned that after this, the force "can start if necessary and if appropriate to reduce the number of police officers so we have got the right mix and through that achieve the financial sustainability that we all seek".

He said he expected to see the "first cut" of a workforce plan for Police Scotland by October or November of this year.

The interim chair of the Scottish Police Authority, David Crichton, was grilled by MSPs over why a workforce plan still hasn’t been drawn up.

Mr Crichton admitted that it was “unacceptable” that it hadn’t been completed. He added that it “has been delayed too long” and that there has been “a difficulty in appreciating how complex” the study would be to compile.

Police Scotland has now taken help from the NHS to draw up the document.

The auditor general’s examination of Police Scotland for 2018/19 found that “there remains an urgent need to prepare detailed workforce plans” and stated that a “review of the demand and skill mix of the workforce” needs to take place.

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Mr Livingstone admitted that the workforce planning had been a "challenging" issue for the force, telling MSPs: "It is not where I would like it to be. And it is a priority for me as Chief Constable to produce that."

He added: "There is a recognition in policing that trying to properly identify our demand, properly quantify it, things such as COP26, the need for police officers on the street, doing public order, doing public security duties, actually balanced against the fact that we want a more agile service that has specialist skills around cyber, has specialist skills around financial investigation and other elements. There is a push there and a challenge.

"In the short-term there is a focus on officer numbers but at the same time we do need to have a plan for the future that means we have got a workforce that has got the skills, the capacity and the profile to meet the challenges going forward."

Calum Steele, the Scottish Police Federation's general secretary, said the direction of travel "doesn't come as a surprise".

He added: "It seems as though there's a lack of willingness to accept that the driving focus should be police demand rather than finances.

"If they continue to underfund the service, it will come as no surprise that looking at numbers of officers is an option.

"There's too much demand for the available number of police officers in Scotland."

The former head of the SPA labelled the organisation in Scotland as “full of clutter and confusion”.

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Susan Deacon quit as chair of the SPA in December, raising concerns the organisation’s oversight of Police Scotland was “fundamentally flawed”.

Prof Deacon told MSPs that there has been a “deafening silence” from the Scottish Government on recommendations by the auditor general to improve the governance of Police Scotland.

She added: "What happens is there is just a muddying of the waters throughout and I just don’t think that’s right.”