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Poaching English officers to 'idyllic Highlands' could trigger retirees

A campaign by Police Scotland to poach English officers could backfire by allowing transferees to retire early – thanks to a ‘best-kept secret’.

A controversial bid by Scotland to solve its recruitment crisis could end up costing the force by helping more officers to quit.

Plans to entice officers in England to sell up and work in idyllic Highland communities have been challenged over whether the initiative will simply add to the exodus from the Service.

The force has launched a campaign targeting officers serving in England claiming “rural posts in Scotland are some of the best kept secrets in policing”.

But there’s more than one best-kept secret to the recruitment campaign, according to the Scottish Police Federation.

It claims transferring officers could quit thanks to changes to pensions provisions in Scotland. Officers over 50 can now retire if they have completed 25 years’ service.

Police Scotland's pitch is that transferees can expect an “enviable lifestyles in some of the most beautiful locations in the world” and “traditional and highly valued community policing”.

The force said: “We are particularly interested in officers willing to transfer to rural or remote locations.”

And for those with children, there is the offer of “good schools, often with smaller class sizes”.

For a hard-pressed response officer working for a gritty urban force, the lure of life away from knife crime – plus a cash gain from property prices – could be strong.

But the force does not explain how an English officer would be supported to work as an outsider in a tightly-knit, rural Scottish community – especially one where Gaelic is the spoken language.

Chiefs in England were taken by surprise by the move which comes just days after the Metropolitan Police became embroiled in a row with Police and Crime Commissioners for breaking a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ by offering a £5,000 golden hello for officers to move from neighbouring forces.

One policing figure described Scotland’s campaign as “a bit cheeky”.

But the force is desperate to fill posts.

According to new data, mental health absences are 'up by 22% in five years’ and thousands of assaults have led to serious concern over officer safety. Just a few hundred have been issued with body-worn video and last month their employers told them to expect a 1% pay rise despite the cost of living crisis.

And 1,800 current officers have signalled they may quit because of the new pension rules that are part of the McCloud legal remedy.

That agreement will be available to transferring officers – with potentially disastrous consequences for the force.

It would in breach of discrimination laws if it didn’t provide the same terms. And that means an officer could transfer and retire immediately.

A 50-year-old officer in Cumbria with 26 years’ service could apply and then sign off for retirement once the transfer was completed.  

SPF Chair David Hamilton told Police Oracle: “Nobody seems to get this – they’ve not thought this thorough. If you are wiley, I can see why you’d do it.”

He warned: “The pension changes are leading to a frontline exodus of existing officers. This was an entirely foreseeable situation and it's frustrating to now see Police Scotland scrabbling around trying to keep the wheels on the bus.”

The pension arrangements are the same for officers joining from either Scotland or England.

The Scottish Public Pensions Agency played down th concerns as a little local difficulty.

In a statement to Police Oracle, it said: "Police pension provision across the UK is broadly aligned. Under arrangements set out in scheme regulations, when an officer with pensionable service moves between UK police forces, both the pension entitlement and liability to pay it are automatically transferred to the new force. Police Scotland would therefore accept the responsibility for paying the pension on the same terms as it has accrued."

SPPA added: "Entitlement to retire applies to a member of the older police pension scheme (with pensionable service before 6 April 2006) on reaching age 50 with 25 years’ service, or where they are a member of a newer scheme, upon reaching the minimum of age 55."

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