SCOTTISH police officers will be paid £4,000 a year to take a career break in a desperate bid to save cash.
Lothian and Borders Police – the second biggest force in Scotland – wants to offer police a cash incentive of £12,000 to take a four-year break and £15,000 for a five-year break.
The move could save the force millions of pounds as it tries to slash its budget.
But the Scottish Police Federation is almost certain to oppose the plan, and predicts it will result in fewer officers on the streets.
Officers will be free to work and earn as much as possible during their break.
And although a specific job is not guaranteed on return, their rank, salary and benefits will all be preserved while they are on their break.
Lothian and Borders already offer unpaid career breaks and, currently, only 19 of the force’s 2,000 officers are away from their posts.
The career break incentive is hoped to encourage far more officers to hang up their uniforms. The force needs to identify a predicted 20 per cent of cuts in its annual budget.
‘Require to retire’
‘The force is also planning to force officers with more than 30 years’ service to retire as part of the cutbacks. This move, if implemented, could save between £11m and £13m a year.
A Scottish Police Federation insider predicted the paid career breaks would badly affect the quality of policing in Scotland.
He said: “There would be less police on the street and it would mean more pressure on those not on career breaks.”
A police spokesman said: “Due to the scale of the financial pressures facing Lothian and Borders Police, it is proposed that the existing career break policy for police officers be amended to make it more attractive and thus encourage a higher uptake.
“It is proposed that the revised career break policy would include a monetary incentive of up to £15,000 for someone taking a five year break.
“While the Force would initially incur the cost of the lump sum incentive, this would be quickly recovered and result in savings for the organisation.”
There is no known precedent for a Scottish police force proposing paid career breaks.
Other forces, including Strathclyde, have led the way in proposing to direct long serving officers to leave the force regardless of their desire to continue to work.
Various forces throughout the UK have already implemented Regulation 19, as it is known, which cannot force fully-sworn police officers into redundancy but states that those with 30 years or more service are “required to retire”.
The Scottish Police Federation will give a presentation concerning Regulation 19 at next Monday’s police board meeting.
David Grady, chairman of the Lothian and Borders joint branch board, said: “We will give our view on this proposal at the meeting.
“Every decision you make, there is a negative result so therefore our presentation is intended to show the possible negative impact of this decision.”
REPORT: Anna Gault