SCOTLAND'S rank and file police officers have expressed concern over the level of service being provided in rural areas.

While Police Scotland maintain that its compliment of officers remains high at over 17,200 nationwide, the Scottish Police Federation has warned that internal demands within the service mean that many officers are being removed from the more rural postings, leaving large swathes of the countryside without adequate cover.

In the Highlands and Islands, for example, many small stations have closed in recent years and the properties put up for sale, leaving individual officers now having to travel large distances to respond to calls.

SPF general secretary, Calum Steele, said: “It’s important that when it comes to police numbers that we have to place that in the context of where they are across Scotland.

“I’m aware Police Scotland say numbers are still at over 17,200 in Scotland, but that’s despite the fact that the Scottish Government provide inadequate funding to maintain these numbers, so maintaining these numbers comes at a significant detriment to the rest of the service. One of the ways that manifests itself is that police officers are increasingly being drawn to the more urban areas to the detriment of the rural areas.”

However, this was disputed by Police Scotland. Deputy chief constable Will Kerr said: "Police numbers have remained consistently higher since the creation of Police Scotland, including those working with and in our local communities.

"We are dedicated to keeping people safe and a cornerstone of this is our local community and response officers being supported by specialist national resources in their areas when required. This was evident just last week on Shetland, where local officers were able to call on the skills, expertise and resources of our National Major Incident Teams when dealing with the very unusual occurrence of a murder," said DC Kerr.

"We continue to outline publicly that significant investment is still required to enable Police Scotland to continue our transformation into a more efficient service."

When the eight individual regional constabularies were amalgamated into Police Scotland in 2013 there were fears that it would lead to centralisation and resources drawn to the populated areas of the central belt.

Norman MacLeod served as chair of the Northern Joint Police Board which, before it dissolution, brought together local councillors and senior officers in the Highlands and Islands to provide a strategic direction to the Northern Constabulary.

“When the eight services went into the one, the issues as far as we were concerned in the Highlands and Islands – and indeed in many other rural areas across Scotland, like Grampian – was that what would be decided in Strathclyde by the senior offices would become the norm and the kind of community policing in the rest of Scotland would no longer exist,” he said.

“There was a reduction in funding and many of the senior officers at the time left the service because they were unhappy at how things were going and, unfortunately, we no longer see community policing in the way we used to in the Highlands and Islands, and indeed across rural Scotland.”