POLICE Scotland’s Chief Constable has blasted Scottish Government spending plans and warned that they could ultimately lead to fewer officers on the street. 

Sir Iain Livingstone also told members of the Scottish Police Authority that the cuts could have an impact on “preventative police activity” including the work needed to tackle  “digitally-enabled offending” such as online child sexual abuse.

Last month, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes set out a four-year spending review, outlining a swathe of cuts intended to head off a projected £3.5 billion spending gap by 2026/27

Ms Forbes told MSPs that savings would be made through a “reshape and refocus” of the public sector, including a shrinking of the workforce down to pre-Brexit, pre-pandemic levels. 

The Resource Spending Review prioritised health and social security, education, and tackling climate change. Justice, however, will see an 8 per cent cut. 

That was despite the SNP’s last manifesto committing to protect the police resources budget in real terms for the entirety of the next parliament. 

Sir Iain told the authority’s board members that the “position outlined is not the real terms revenue protection that we expected and that had been committed.” 

He added: “The cost of living crisis has the potential to increase the vulnerability of people while at the same time placing pressure on services which exists to support them. 

“It places additional strain across society and such pressure have the potential to lead to disruption, protest, disharmony. 

“We know policing is so often the service of first and last resort, and that when other agencies and services are facing significant challenges need can displace on to policing. 

“Additionally, Police Scotland continues to receive funding for officers in whole or part from partners such as local authorities, who I know will face the same difficult resourcing choices as we do and other public bodies.” 

He said the force was facing increased operating costs which would not be matched by increased funding. 

This he said would mean having to make difficult choices. 

He said:” I do have a duty of candour to say that I'm deeply concerned about the position in which policing may be placed if the spending review is implemented as outlined. 

“For example, funding future pay awards may only be possible through having a far smaller workforce, one with fewer officers.”

The Chief told board members that “digitally-enabled offending, such as online child sexual abuse and fraud, continue to grow at a very high rate.”

He said it was essential that there was “frontline policing undertaken in the virtual space.” 

“Effective, operationally competent policing is a prerequisite for public confidence in policing and a prerequisite for social cohesion,” he added. 

“Maintaining our workforce with the capacity and capability to keep people safe and public, to keep people safe and private, and to keep people safe in the virtual space is vital to effective and trusted policing. 

“Which in turn, is fundamental to economic security and social cohesion.” 

Sir Iain said Police Scotland had already made significant savings and that the single force was operating at £200m less than the eight legacy forces.

Currently, he said the force was facing a £66m black hole. He told the board, “Anticipated capital funding for the next five years is £26m less than required for our fleet, £20m less than required for our estate, £20m less than required for our digital division as we seek to digitalize policing.” 

Sir Iain told the board: “It appears that our funding allocation is likely to fall in real terms. Yet Scottish policing is a scarce example in the United Kingdom public sector of significant reform and reduced cost - £200m a year compared to legacy arrangements - and achieving this while improving service remains a significant challenge and significant achievement. 

“Scotland needs, deserves and values an effective responsive service from their police service which is appropriately funded.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: "It's interesting to compare the spending commitments of Scottish nationalists now with their pre-election pledge to protect the police resource budget.

"The police budget is being hollowed out and Ian Livingstone is right to warn of the consequences.

"What people want is a community police force that turns up when a crime is committed and ensures that offenders are properly pursued. That is no longer guaranteed under the SNP."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“The resource spending review sets out the Scottish Government’s high-level resource spending plans for future Budgets, providing a basis for financial planning.

"The resource spending review is not a budget – future Scottish Budgets will be presented to the Parliament for scrutiny and a formal vote each year.

“The police resource budget has been protected in real terms since 2016-17, which led to the elimination of the police budget deficit.

"We remain committed to working closely with both SPA and Police Scotland to ensure we continue to have a safe, protected and resilient Scotland.”