ONE of Scotland’s most senior police chiefs has slammed a controversial new plan to introduce paid for career breaks for officers in a bid to save money.
Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said that Forces should be trying to keep officers on the streets regardless of financial pressures.
He warned that a bid to introduce the breaks, which have been floated ahead of a meeting today (mon) by Lothian and Borders Chief Constable David Strang.
Chief Superintendent O’Connor said “It’s an idea that would not get the support from the association.
“We should not be paying police officers to come off the streets and stay at home.
“We spend a lot of money training officers up – so we should not be paying them to not work.”
He added: “I’m not sure what the actual up take would even be for these paid career breaks.
“But it seems strange to me that given today’s economic austerity to pay officers to take breaks.”
“We should have a clear focus on how we can afford to keep officers on the street, rather than have them in jobs unrelated to the police.”
His remarks put him at clear odds with Lothian and Borders Chief Constable David Strang who will ask for the scheme’s approval at a Lothian and Borders police board meeting on Monday.
Career breaks as a way to cut down costs in the force would see police officers paid £12,000 for a three year break and £15,000 for the five year break, as opposed to paying their current full salaries.
The meeting will also discuss plans for the early retirement of long serving officers with more 30 years in the L&B force, using a pension regulation called A19 on grounds of “efficiency” of the force.
CS O’Connor added: “If you look at the force, it has stopped recruiting now and our most experienced and skilled officers are being taken out of the force by the A19, so paying officers to take breaks would be a false economy.
“Yes some savings may be made.
“But the wider implications for the public sector are that pensions would have to be paid to those forced to leave by the A19”
Despite his objections, the idea has still already won support in some quarters in L&B.
Chairman of Lothian and Borders Police Board, Councillor Ian Whyte, has already revealed he is in favour of the proposed career breaks ahead of the meeting.
Mr Whyte said: “I think that on Monday I’ll be in favour of career breaks – but only to use them where appropriate and I will trust the Chief Constable’s judgement in this.”
Mr Whyte added: “It’s all a balance really. To save costs, an alternative to career breaks could be redundancies which would see less officers on the streets indefinitely so career breaks would better in that instance.”
“I think that with an issue like this you have to look at the financial impact and the best actions to take.
“I’m not keen to see officer numbers drop and so will be looking into alternatives to the career breaks and it will be a last resort.”
The meeting will also decide whether officers with more than 30 years of service will be forced to retire “on the grounds of the efficiency of the force” – an area known as regulation A19 of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987.
The Lothian and Borders Police Federation will give a presentation at Monday’s meeting to show the negative impacts of regulation A19 but declined to comment about the paid career breaks proposal as it had “come out of the blue”.
Strathclyde police have already approved the implementation of regulation A19 but no further actions will be taken until the Scottish Government release its budget.
There are no career breaks in place at the Strathclyde force but there are suggestions that the introduction of paid career breaks in the Lothian and Borders will act as an incentive for Strathclyde to follow suit.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Strathclyde Police Federation, said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if paid career breaks got suggested in Strathclyde with what is going on with Lothian and Borders but it would be a strange one as there is no one on career breaks in the Strathclyde force just now anyway.”
The Scottish Government has said that it will set out its police budget as part of its overall spending plans later this month.
The comprehensive spending review carried out by the UK Government has seen a bigger than expected cut of £1.3bn to Scotland’s budget in 2011/12, but police funding remains a significant priority of the Scottish Government and they are committed to protecting frontline policing services
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No decisions have been made on any changes to police pay and allowances.
“The Scottish Government is in discussion with police staff associations, on behalf of Scottish Police Negotiating Board official side member, to consider these matters in the context of the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review announcement.”
REPORT: Anna Gault