Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where FMQs take place on a Thursday.
By Robert L Stevenson, parliamentary reporter
Water pouring in through ceilings and windows, mushrooms growing in the carpets and rats scurrying about the mouldy floors—what word would the First Minister use to describe the state of some of Scotland’s police stations?
Tory leader Jackson Carlaw raised the question of police operating from condemned buildings with Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament.
Feisty Nicola replied: “Jackson Carlaw has something of a nerve to raise issues such as policing.
“I remind Jackson Carlaw and other members that it is the Conservative Party that has reduced the resource budget of this Government by £1.5 billion, which is 5 per cent in real terms, since 2010.
“It was also the Conservatives who robbed the Police Service of Scotland of £125 million in VAT, which should never have been claimed.
“However, despite all that, the annual budget for policing in Scotland has increased by more than £80 million since 2016, bringing it to £1.2 billion this year. The capital budget of the service has increased by 52 per cent this year alone to support the roll-out of mobile technology.
Sturgeon and Carlaw – fighting over office provision for the police.
“We are investing in police officers, maintaining 1,000 more police officers in our communities, while the Tories have cut 20,000 officers from the streets of England.”
She added: “We will take no lectures from the Conservatives on matters of public services. As we prepare our budget for the year ahead, our priority will continue to be investment in public services. We will leave Jackson Carlaw to argue for tax cuts for the highest paid people in our country.”
Jackson Carlaw, unfazed by the FM’s feisty reaction, replied: “The cliché meter was ringing loud there, was it not?
“I noticed that, in the First Minister’s long peroration, the one word that she did not use was “hyperbole”, yet that is exactly how her Cabinet Secretary for Justice [Hamza Yousaf] reacted when he was confronted with shocking descriptions of working conditions in some of Scotland’s police stations.
“It is no wonder that the head of the Scottish Police Federation is furious at Mr Yousaf’s denial. Warnings from front-line police officers about the conditions in which they are being forced to work have been made year after year, but little or nothing has been done. Who is right—the Scottish Police Federation or Mr Yousaf?”
The First Minister said all the austerity measures Scotland had to put up with had been made worse “over the past 10 years by austerity imposed on this Government by Conservatives at Westminster.”
She added: “This Government, in contrast to what we see south of the border, is protecting Police Scotland’s revenue budget during this Parliament, which includes in this year alone a £42.3 million increase in funding.
“Police Scotland’s total capital expenditure is the fourth highest of all United Kingdom police forces and there has been a £12 million increase in this financial year alone. We are also providing reform funding to the Scottish Police Authority and, of course, we are maintaining police numbers significantly above the level that we inherited in 2007. Into the bargain, we gave our police officers a higher pay rise than police officers got in any other part of the UK.
“I know the pressure that police officers work under and I am grateful for the job that they do each and every day. We will continue in our budget decisions to prioritise our public service workers. I think that the Tories should actually be ashamed at their record in Westminster in that regard.”
Jackson Carlaw replied: “This is not just about unpleasant, uncomfortable and potentially unsanitary situations in which police officers and staff are expected to work; there are major safety concerns, too.
“Under the Scottish National Party, out of 45 UK police forces, Police Scotland is the fifth-worst funded. However, yesterday, the UK Government announced over £1 billion extra for policing, with the Scottish Government receiving some £100 million.
“Will the First Minister assure our hard-working police officers that that additional funding will be used to protect police officer numbers and, at the very least, improve the environment in which they are expected to work?”
The police office at Crosslet in Dumbarton has been mentioned over the past ten years as not fit for purpose and previous Chief Constables have threatened to close it. It was also said to be dangerous for police vehicles emerging on to the busy A82.
However, it was saved and appears now to be only half used as talks about its future are ongoing. Now the County Buildings have been demolished and house builders have moved in, the police office looks certain to be next to face the bulldozers.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “Of course, while the Conservatives have been cutting the budget of this Government, we have been protecting the budget of Scotland’s Police Service. Because of the incompetence of the UK Government, we will require to set our budget for the next financial year before we have seen the colour of the money that Jackson Carlaw keeps saying is coming our way, so I certainly hope that those promises turn out to be accurate.
“We will continue to do everything that we can within our powers and resources to protect our police service the length and breadth of the country.”
Jackson Carlaw said: “The budget that the SNP Government receives from Westminster is on the rise, but what do we have to show for it? Leaking police stations and collapsing ceilings; half-built ferries; boarded-up hospitals and closed-off children’s wards; and a crisis in Scotland’s schools.
“We have had years of missed opportunity from a distracted and disengaged Government. We are promised yet more updates on her favourite topic [independence] next week.
“What chance is there of the First Minister updating us instead on when her Government is going to start sorting out the things that really matter, which are failing under this SNP Administration?”