Scotland politics

Chief Constable Stephen House says police job cut fears 'not realistic'

Fears that 3,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the merger of Scotland's police forces are not "realistic", according to its chief constable.

Stephen House was named as the head of the new single force last month.

In interviews after his appointment, he did not rule out the suggestion that up to 3,000 support staff could go - describing it as a "ballpark" figure.

But speaking to Holyrood's justice committee on Tuesday, he said that prediction was "too stark".

He also rejected claims that frontline officers would be used to fill in behind backroom staff.

Speaking to the media after his appointment, Mr House said "many, many hundreds" of support staff could go, and that the final number could be in the "low thousands".

He added: "It's difficult to be precise at this moment in time, because calculations are still being made and it depends on a lot of different factors."

When asked about predictions that up to 3,000 jobs could be lost, he said that was a ballpark figure.

On Tuesday, SNP MSP Rod Campbell asked Mr House about the possible level of jobs cuts.

The chief constable replied that the 3,000 figure was a bit "too stark" and had been worked out using a rather rough formula.

He said: "I think the way the 3,000 figure has come about is a very simple method which is someone has looked at the gap between the budget and the cost over a number of years, dividing that by 26,000 - which is the average salary for a member of support staff - and they have come up with a figure of just over 3,000."

He added: "That was not a figure that I put out there, it was suggested by someone else and I was asked to comment on is this the absolute upper limit.

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Media captionStephen House spoke to BBC Scotland's Raymond Buchanan last month

"Technically speaking, yes, it is the upper limit. Do I think it is a realistic figure? Not really."

Mr House said the first priority in closing the budget gap would be to look at non-staff costs first, and then they would consider voluntary redundancy.

Labour's Jenny Marra claimed a report by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's police sub-group committee made it clear that cuts to backroom staff would be delivered by police officers doing administration work.

However, Mr House said he was unaware of these plans and that any move in this direction would be unhelpful.

"There is no strategy that I am in charge of in terms of reform which is predicated upon backfilling," he said.

"I don't think anyone regards backfilling by police officers as a good thing or desirable thing. It is a bad thing and it should be avoided."

Mr House, 54, will lead the UK's second largest police force once the merger is complete.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has previously said there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the unified force, which will provide employment for about 6,500 support staff.

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