THE justice secretary has insisted the Scottish Government was "looking after police officers" as they threaten “costly and disruptive” action after rejecting a pay offer.

The governing body of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents frontline officers rejected a £565 annual pay increase as unrest in the public sector over pay escalates.

The group’s joint central committee (JCC) reached a unanimous decision at a meeting in Inverness to refuse the offer and support internal forms of action.

 Calum Steele, the Scottish Police Federation’s general secretary, said: “At their most basic level, these actions amount to the wholesale removal of the good will that the service requires to operate. Significantly, this good will and flexibility saves the police service money, and its removal will be both costly and disruptive.”

But Keith Brown defended the Scottish Government's record while saying it was inappropriate for him to comment on the pay negotiations.

He was quizzed by Scottish Conservative MSP Jeremy Balfour who said: "The SNP government has broken its manifesto promise to protect the police budget in real terms.

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"And it will be hard working police who pay the price. I have a Freedom of Information request which shows that last year's police pay settlement cost Police Scotland £14.5m.

"This is less than the £20m the SNP government is proposing to spend on another independence referendum. Cabinet secretary would you rather the SNP government spending 20m on police pay or another referendum that Scotland doesn't want."

Mr Brown said Mr Balfour's numbers were "factually incorrect", before declaring how well the SNP government had been treating police officers, compared to 'Tory England and Wales'.

He said: "Unless he has the ability to foresee what the budget is going to be, we have not broken any commitment but don't let the facts get in the way of a headline.

"I would also say that the the wage increase that police officers in Scotland had last year was an increase of over 2%. What did they get from the Tories? Zero. Nothing in England and Wales. Zero increase.

"That's the way that the Tories treats police officers. It's also true that Jeremy Balfour should realise of course that the budget that we receive is 5.2% down this year - cut from the Conservatives. I know they don't like to hear it.

"At the same time, the economic mismanagement of the economy has led to 9.1% inflation.

"They are the cause of problems. There all sorts of public sector workers across the country. We will continue to do as much as we can for the police.

"We have a very good record. For example, a police officer starting in Scotland gets over £26,000. One starting under Tory England and Wales £21,000. That's the way we're looking after the police."

The police pay row comes in the wake of ministers agreeing a "breakthrough" 5% pay deal with train drivers union Aslef which could end a row which has led to major cuts to nationalised ScotRail services.

The included a “top-up revenue sharing arrangement” that could potentially raise the pay increase to nearly 10% which would apply where revenue targets are exceeded.

The prospect of thousands of Scots local authority workers from cleaners and binmen to care workers and school staff going on strike this summer in pay disputes has come even closer as three key unions Unison, GMB and Unite prepare for strike ballots over a 2.2% offer.

The JCC criticised the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland and Scottish ministers for "the continued failure to return to the negotiating table".

The dispute between the "official side" - the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland and Scottish government ministers - and staff is being handled by the Police Negotiating Board.

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Members of the force are restricted on how they can protest, for legal reasons, but Mr Steele said SPF members were willing to take action “for many months” unless “significant improvement” is made.

Mr Steele added: These actions will be seeking to mitigate the disruptive and costly impact of policing on them and their families, at a time when the cost of living crisis is compounding the mental and physical ill health of officers.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We recognise the considerable goodwill officers bring to their roles on a daily basis as they keep people safe across the country, and this is also valued by the communities they serve.

"We therefore remain committed, through the Police Negotiating Board, to seeking a settlement."