STAFF at one of Scotland’s largest police forces are set to be offered voluntary redundancy and early retirement in a bid to avoid axing personnel if expected cuts go ahead.
Lothian and Borders Police are to make the offers to members of the 1,400 civilian staff who support frontline officers.
The scheme is to be established provisionally, with police chiefs only putting plans into action if savings needs to be made.
The offers are part of the “Transforming the Service” (TTS) scheme currently being carried out by Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen.
Reducing the number of civilian staff is currently one of the only ways that police forces are able to make significant cuts.
Currently 85 per cent of Lothian and Borders Police’s £172.6million budget is spent on salaries, and police officers themselves cannot be laid off under law.
The TTS scheme has already focused on cutting down officers’ overtime, which cost the force £8.5million last year.
In a report to the police board, Chief Constable David Strang said that Lothian and Borders was facing a 12 per cent cut in real terms over the next three years, with the possibility of the figure rising to 20 per cent over five years.
He said: “It is clear that the force must plan now for actions that must be taken both in the short-term and in the coming years.”
DCC Allen added: “At the police board next week, we are asking the board to approve in principle a voluntary redundancy scheme.
“No decisions have been made but we would like to be in a position where we know we could activate a scheme for volunteers if the need to reduce numbers arises.
“All these measures are about making sure we do not make staffing decisions now that make it more difficult to achieve savings later on.”
He added that the trade unions will be consulted.
If the cuts go ahead, civilian police staff whose redundancies are accepted could begin to leave by April next year.
Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the Lothian and Borders Police board, said: “We’ve been told to plan on at least a four per cent reduction, or 12 per cent in real terms, for the next three years, and possibly longer than that.
“For an organisation where 85 per cent of the costs relate to staff salaries, it’s entirely sensible that a system is put in place where voluntary redundancies and early retirements can be put in place if that helps.”
Jackie Muller, secretary of the Lothian and Borders branch of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “Any reduction amongst support staff must not impact on the number of frontline police officers.”
The funding from the Edinburgh-based police force comes from the five local authorities that are covered by the force, as well as contributions from the Scottish government.
A spokesman for the City of Edinburgh Council said: “We recognise the importance of policing but also have to take into account all the other services we provide to our communities.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government added: “All operational decisions are a matter for individual chief constables.”