A Glasgow employment tribunal has this week published a judgement which indicates that the Police Force is operating at minimum safety levels due to financial constraints. Fiona Mair raised a successful action for indirect sex discrimination after Police Scotland rejected her application for a flexible working pattern which was to allow her to look after her son. This application was refused as if she moved to another shift it meant there would be an extra officer on shift over and above basic staffing levels. Ms Mair, who was a long –serving officer, required to resign as a result of being moved to a night shift pattern in 2014. The employment tribunal judge found that Police Scotland’s refusal was disproportionate as Ms Mair had requested a relatively minor adjustment.
During the tribunal, several officers gave evidence that staffing levels are determined by the Operational Base Level which considers the number of incidents likely to occur at certain times and the number officers which will be needed to deal with those incidents. This means that the number of police officers on each shift is only for the very minimum level of staffing for safety and the police force operates at a reactive rather than proactive level.
This worrying evidence indicates that both the safety of police officers and the public are at risk.
The Scottish Police Federation are optimistic that the decision in Ms Mair’s case will lead to an improvement, with their deputy general secretary David Kennedy stating that Police Scotland were now working with the equality commission to try and improve flexible working practices. Although this will hopefully stop the police force losing further experienced police officers such as Ms Mair, it is clear that financial issues and austerity have impacted Police Scotland since it was created in 2013.
The numbers of police officers in Scotland are at a nine year low, the amount spent on overtime each year is down and there have been redundancies to civilian staff. A whistleblower has also recently claimed that Police Scotland are running a fleet of dangerously old cars with thousands of miles on them and in poor states of repair simply because of the pressure to keep spending down. As a result of these cuts and the reactive system of police now in force, the Chair of the Scottish Police Federation has stated that “police officers are stretched to breaking point”. Clearly the health, safety and working conditions of officers have been negatively affected and this could leave the public in potential danger.
Despite the fact that the Government’s recent budget did not go nearly far enough towards ending austerity, recent indications from the Conservative party are that the end is finally in sight. However if that is the case then why are the effects of austerity continuing to be seen throughout our public sector? Today, voting closes in a ballot set by the teachers’ unions, the EIS and SSTA, on whether to reject a pay increase of only around 3%. Given the recent well attended rallies in support of a 10% pay increase, particularly given the increased work load and stresses teachers now face, it seems likely the pay deal will be rejected. Hopefully this will finally be the wake up call the government needs to finally take action and end the damaging impact of austerity before our public services are affected further.
Blog by Claire Campbell, Solicitor