JOHN Swinney has been warned justice services will be “downgraded to unacceptable levels” and forced into “drastic cuts to staff numbers” without more funding in this year’s budget.

Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee has warned that more funding is required after pre-budget scrutiny was primarily focused on the proposed flat-cash settlement for the justice sector set out in the Scottish Government’s Resource Spending Review framework (RSR).

Independent research by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) suggested that if current inflationary pressures continue, this settlement would represent a significant reduction in spending across the justice sector, with resource spending falling in real terms by £102million, or 3.6%.

A report by the committee highlights evidence gathered from across the justice sector raising concerns of depleted services and cuts to staff numbers, should the figures outlined in the RSR be rolled out.

The committee has warned budgets for capital investment in the emergency services, prisons and courts have been less than asked for in recent years, adding that the pressures on public spending and the high rate of inflation, mean budgets for day-to-day running costs are also at risk.

Maintaining current staffing levels in police and fire services, upgrading the prison estate or investing in efforts to improve the prosecution of sex offences could all be under threat if no further funding is provided.

Criminal Justice Committee convener, Audrey Nicoll, said: “As a committee we recognise the huge financial pressure facing government budgets, however the evidence we have taken during this year’s pre-budget scrutiny is stark and deeply concerning.

“We have heard from across the criminal justice sector of potentially severe cuts to services and hefty reductions in police and fire service staff numbers if these funding cuts were to come to fruition, “Although we welcome the commitment from the Justice Secretary that there will be no cuts to police staff numbers, we want to see this recognised through a suitable budget settlement.”

She added: “We understand the difficult decisions facing the Scottish Government in this year’s budget but it is essential that criminal justice services receive appropriate funding and a greater settlement than that proposed in the Resource Spending Review, and that any extra resources do more than simply get swallowed up by increased pay awards.

“Otherwise, there is a substantial risk of services in the justice system being downgraded to unacceptable levels and drastic cuts to staff numbers.”

The committee also heard evidence from Police Scotland and the SPA that response times to 999 calls would “be slowed” and that there were questions about the 101 service.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown also spoke to the committee, saying he had “no intention” of overseeing a budget which led to 4,000 officers leaving the police.

He told the committee: “It would not be honest or beneficial to our justice services to pretend that exceptionally difficult choices will not have to be made across all portfolios, including justice, in the final budget allocations.”