Policing in the UK came into sharp focus after reports that forces in London were using controversial tactics to stop criminals on mopeds.

Footage of police ramming vehicles into scooters was widely criticised by campaigners and politicians, and the debate was raised on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday 6 December 2018.

Panellist Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said one of the central issues was policing numbers, which he suggested had decreased in England and Wales but increased in Scotland.


One of the issues here is that police numbers in England and Wales have gone down quite substantially, whilst in Scotland they've actually increased. Ian Blackford MP

Ferret Fact Service assessed this claim and found it to be Half True.

Evidence

Policing is devolved to Scotland, whilst the power over policing in England and Wales is reserved to Westminster.

This has allowed Scotland to pursue significantly different policies and organisation, most notably the establishment of the single force, Police Scotland, in 2013.

There are some exceptions to this, notably the British Transport Police, which covers Britain’s railways.

The number of police in the force in England and Wales is categorised slightly differently to Scotland.

Policing numbers increased in England and Wales from 2003 until 2009, when they peaked at 143,769. Since then the number of officers has been in decline, with 2018 statistics showing 122,404 in the police across England and Wales. This amounts to a 14.8 per cent decrease in the last 9 years.

When the total police force including British Transport Police, officers on secondments, and those on career breaks are included, the high water mark was 2010 with 244,497 employed. Now this figure is 199,752 in England and Wales.

Compared to 2017, police officer numbers in England and Wales have decreased 738, while the total number in the force has increased by 1,066. The first overall increase since 2010.

These figures refer to the number of full time equivalent (FTE) officers. This is the number of full time officers there would be if you added up all the hours to make full time roles. This is lower than the headcount figure.

The current number in England and Wales is at its lowest since directly comparable records began in 1996, and is the lowest number of officers since 1981.

In Scotland, policing numbers are not broken down into specific roles, since the amalgamation of the eight regional forces in 2013.

So statistics for police in Scotland are for the total force only. These are released every quarter.

Between 2007 and 2008, there was an increase of around 1,000 officers in Scotland. The increase occurred after the SNP got into power in 2007, and continued a trend of increasing police numbers since quarterly statistical releases began in 2003. This brought FTE numbers to over 17,000. The force reached its height in the first quarter of 2013, with 17,496.

Since then the number of police officers had stayed broadly consistent, with small decreases followed by increases the following year. However, the past two years has seen a decline in numbers.

In 2017, the Scottish Police Authority announced that around 400 police officers would be cut between then and 2026.

The chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, Andrew Flanagan, said: “We are anticipating a small reduction in police officer numbers through to 2020.

“It would be around 400, but that would come towards the end of the period, rather than early on.”

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

Ian Blackford is correct that police numbers in England and Wales have decreased in recent years. Since 2009 numbers have been decreasing, and are also down since last year. Frontline policing has also been cut. There has been an increase in police numbers in Scotland since the SNP came to power, with around 1,000 added to the force in 2008. But overall numbers have been declining in recent years, together with cuts to support staff and the Scottish Police Authority has committed to further reductions in coming years.

This claim is half true.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

Correction: An earlier version of this fact check described Andrew Flanagan as the “then Chief Constable”. He was in fact the Scottish Police Authority chairman between 2015 and 2017.

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