A POLICE plan to save cash by pensioning off more than 300 senior officers has been thrown into disarray following an unprecedented revolt by councillors.
Lothian and Borders Police, Scotland’s second biggest force, wants to save millions of pounds annually by forcing officers with 30 or more years’ service to retire.
But at a stormy meeting today (Mon), force chiefs were told by rank-and-file officers that their plan could put public order at risk and lead to hundreds of expensive legal challenges.
One suggested the proposals were a “betrayal” of hundreds of Scotland’s most experienced police officers.
Chief Constable David Strang was told to come back with more detailed evidence about the impact of his proposals, and to wait for this Wednesday’s announcement of public spending plans for Scotland.
Strang asked the police board to delegate to him their power to compulsorily retire officers who with full pension entitlement, usually after 30 years’ service.
Before now, “regulation A19” has only been used by boards to retire inefficient officers.
Strang told the board that up to £13m could be saved over three years if all 305 senior officers – about 15% of force strength – with full pensions were retired.
Jackie Muller, secretary of Lothian and Borders Police Federation, which represents officers up to the rank of Chief Inspector, told the board: “We are extremely concerned that A19…amounts to the imposition of compulsory redundancy in an unprecedented way.”
Muller said the move would damage force morale and strip the force of badly-needed experience. “This force cannot afford to lose good, experienced officers on the grounds of expediency,” she said.
Muller added that the federation had sought legal advice, warning the board: “There are immense potential costs should each officer challenge retirement by judicial review.”
Chief Superintendent Charlie Commons, of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said the plan was already “causing real damage to morale”.
He said: “I would ask does it make sense to dispense with the skills and experience of the most experienced officers?”
Commons then suggested there could be implications for public order.
Referring to last week’s riots in London, he said: “We may be about to enter difficult times and some of the [most experienced] officers could be unavailable to this force.”
Strang told the meeting retirement would not be automatic on reaching full pensionable service.
He said local commanders could make a case for keeping an officer if they had particular skills or experience.
Councillors were also warned that if the force was unable to save money it might have to sack civilian workers and “backfill” their support roles with police officers.
Councillor Iain Whyte, convenor of the board, urged members to back Strang, saying it was their responsibility to give the Chief Constable the resources he needed and to balance the budget.
But Councillor Marilyne MacLaren branded the plan as “draconian” and said it would have very “serious and harsh” consequences for those affected.
She said: “I share the concerns about the lack of experience at the top. We need the wisdom of older officers.
“It would be a betrayal of older officers.
Councillors also complained there was too little information in Strang’s report and asked why they were being asked to decide just two days before the SNP Government unveils its detailed spending plans for Scotland.
Councillor Eric Milligan said: “If we were to approve the paper the Chief Constable has put before us, we would be crossing a very important threshold.
“We would be adhering to a policy that would be the thin end of what could be a very big wedge.
“We have not made people compulsorily redundant because of financial constraints.”
He added: “We are not here to rubber stamp the Chief Constable’s opinions. We are not here to give him the untrammelled right to act as he sees proper.
“We are here to serve the public.
“Do you think the public are clamouring for us to make [senior police officers] compulsorily redundant?”
Councillors voted in favour of an amendment to hold further discussions once the Scottish Government’s detailed spending plans were known and police had produced a detailed report on the impact of their plans.