Police (Mental Health Support)

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament am ar 24 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Llafur

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the mental health of front-line police officers, in light of reports that reductions in the number of police officers is putting increasing pressure on the service. (S6O-03339)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

We have provided an additional £75.7 million of resource funding for policing, which enables Police Scotland to retain police numbers of around 16,500 to 16,600. Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales and higher pay ranges for officers at all ranks. The number of new recruits stands at around 1,680 since 2022.

Although the mental health of police officers is a matter for the chief constable under the oversight of the Scottish Police Authority, I assure the member that the Scottish Government supports recent initiatives such as the development of a wellbeing action plan, which will be presented to the SPA this summer.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Llafur

Figures that were obtained in response to a freedom of information request have shown that, between 2018-19 and 2022-23, the number of working days lost to mental health absences soared by 67 per cent among police officers and 165 per cent among police staff. Can the cabinet secretary give an update on the number of mental health absences among police officers and staff and say what impact that has had on the number of crimes that are being investigated?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I will certainly request that the SPA provides that information directly to Mr Griffin.

The health and wellbeing of police officers and civilian staff is a matter of the utmost importance. I was pleased that the chief constable has ensured that the matter is very high on her agenda. Policing is, of course, a relentless job and it is a job like no other, but the issue of wellbeing, workload and reducing unreasonable demands on police officers is being taken very seriously indeed by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and the SPA. We will endeavour to work together to take matters forward, particularly in the light of the recent “Frontline Focus—Wellbeing” report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary provide any update regarding the steps that are being taken to ensure that the increased SPA resource budget specifically supports further police recruitment?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Following the publication of the Scottish budget last December, the chief constable told Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee that the policing budget settlement for 2024-25 would allow Police Scotland to restart officer recruitment for the year ahead and to retain officer numbers at around 16,600. I was very pleased to see that, last month, Police Scotland welcomed almost 200 new officers, with further intakes planned throughout this year. The SPA budget has increased by 5.6 per cent in revenue; that was certainly welcomed by the chief constable and puts policing in this country on a very strong footing.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Ceidwadwyr

The national police wellbeing service supports officers across the United Kingdom with its blue light wellbeing framework. Police Scotland said that it intended to sign up but now appears to have gone cold. In its new report, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland urges Police Scotland to revisit that. Does the cabinet secretary support that call?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I very much welcomed the independent report from the independent inspectorate. It is a matter and a report that I have discussed on a number of occasions with His Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary and the SPA. Although all the recommendations made by HMICS are for Police Scotland and the SPA, I assure Russell Findlay that the Government stands ready to support the implementation of those recommendations.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Years of staff time is being lost because officers and supporting teams are struggling under the pressure. In 2022, 65 per cent of officers who left with less than two years’ service cited personal reasons for leaving. What more can the Scottish Government do to support Police Scotland’s new police officers with their mental health and to ensure that the investment in their training is backed up with investment in their wellbeing?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Ms Wishart raises an important point. One of the central points of the HMICS “Frontline Focus—Wellbeing” report was that, although Police Scotland has excellent arrangements in place when there are catastrophes and incidents that are traumatic for serving police officers, further action is recommended around those organisational and day-to-day stressors. Ms Wishart’s point is well made that, particularly for new recruits, there needs to be an additional focus and endeavour.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

That concludes portfolio question time on justice and home affairs. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business to allow members on the front benches to change.