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Police Scotland retention row raises fresh questions in England

The storm over retention rates has returned with claims that forces are hiding the true extent of people quitting.

A row in Scotland over officers leaving the service has renewed concern over the situation in other UK forces.

Police Scotland may not be the only force grappling with a significant number of officers retiring.

The warning came after the Scottish national force was accused by MSPs of burying bad news over retention rates.

Members of Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee heard claims from frontline leaders that the reality is an under-staffed service and the situation is getting worse.

The committee is set to demand Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority set the record straight.

They will ask Police Scotland for more evidence on retirement rates within the force, after the organisation which represents officers accused it of presenting a “demonstrably untrue” picture of the situation.

One of the issues driving retirements is the number that have reached 25 years’ service. It is understood around 1,800 officers in this cohort have put in for retirement.

Earlier this month, the force advertised for officers in England to consider transferring to become rural officers.

There could be problems south of the border too.

Federation leaders have been saying for months that the combination of poor pay, assaults and austerity cuts is leading to an exodus of experienced officers as well as a significant number of Uplift recruits.

The official line from forces is that they are slowly returning to strength thanks to the thousands of new entrants.

But some Police and Crime Commissioners are questioning if the new joiners are enough to ensure long-term resilience and are questioning what they are being told.

A PCC told Police Oracle: “I’m not convinced that the figures I’m getting and the narrative I’m being told matches what is actually going on. And that is concerning.”

Police Scotland certainly has an increase in leavers.

MSPs received a letter from Police Scotland deputy chief officer David Page which noted 321 officers had retired from the service in the first quarter of 2022, an increase of 69% on the five-year average.

It said this was due to changes in pension policy and there was “no impact to service delivery”, while acknowledging the loss of officers from across all ranks would present challenges.

But a subsequent letter from Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele strongly disputed the earlier correspondence.

He said: “Our members are telling us that they are overworked and undervalued.

“They tell us they have their rest constantly disrupted; they tell us they are being made physically and mentally unwell by the tolls of a job that simply heaps more and more work on those who have literally nothing left to give.

“Quite simply, the reason police officers are choosing to retire is because they have had enough.”

He added: “Mr Page states ‘at this time there is no impact to service delivery’. This is demonstrably untrue and verging on the deliberately disingenuous.”

Conservative MSP Russell Findlay said: “I think it’s quite extraordinary that the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation is effectively saying Police Scotland are misleading us as MSPs and as a committee.

“I think it’s absolutely vital we get to the bottom of this.”

The SNP’s Rona Mackay said the majority of those leaving the police had more than 25 years’ service and were “perfectly entitled” to retire.

She said: “I appreciate the concerns, I don’t think we should hit the panic button because they will sort this out.”

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