POLICE Scotland said she was “really concerned” that she would soon be unable to carry out essential functions as budget cuts forced her to lay off thousands of staff.

Deputy Chief Constable David Page has told MSPs that 101 non-emergency helplines could be cut as 4,400 officers and civilian staff could be lost over the next four years.

He said Scottish Government plans to freeze Police Scotland’s cash budget until 2027 could reduce it to a “quasi-military force” used only for the “most serious incidents”.

Opposition members of Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee described his evidence as “appalling”, while even one SNP member said it was the “most scathing” he had heard in Parliament.

In May, the SNP finance Secretary Kate Forbes has announced a “cash freeze” for the justice sector from 2023/24 to 2026/27, which independent analysts at the Scottish Parliament say will reduce the portfolio by 7.8 per cent in real terms.

This includes courtsprosecutors, legal aid, prisons, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland, the funding body for Police Scotland.

However, rising inflation and UK budget cuts next month could worsen the squeeze.

DCC’s Page said Chief Constable Ian Livingston was “very concerned” by the figure and that there were “very, very difficult decisions” ahead.

He told MSPs: “The vast majority of our budget is people, so any cuts to our budget will go directly to the people – the police and the staff who make up Police Scotland.”

He said the cuts would make Police Scotland more reliant on support from other forces in England and Wales for major events, a practice known as mutual aid.

He said: “We’re looking at things like having to drop the policing that we’re doing at the moment because we’re not going to have the authority to do that, frankly.

“Things like community policing, campus police, what incidents we attend in terms of road enforcement. Mental well-being, things like that.’

Saying the police often had to pick up the “slack” from other government agencies, he added: “Our ability to respond to 999 calls will be slowed. Service 101, shall we?

“If we don’t continue the 101 service, all it will do is switch people to dial 999.”

Police response, digital forensics and public protection will all be compressed, he said.

“There is a real concern that we will not be able to fulfill our responsibilities as we are now.

“We offer one of the best policing services, if not in the UK the world.

“Our officers are part of our communities. You start to lose it.

“Our cleaning rates are good. They could be better, they could always be better.

“But part of it has to do with engagement with our communities.

“You know you don’t want Police Scotland to become one of a kind the right law enforcement is almost like a quasi-military force where all you can deal with are the most serious incidents.

“Police Scotland should not have been like this.”

Tory MSP Jamie Green asked him if that was a realistic scenario.

DCC Page said all of these service areas are currently under review.

James Gray, the force’s chief financial officer, said it was not a “scare”.

In a recent written statement, the Scottish Police Federation, the body representing the force’s 17,000 officers, warned the committee that if the budget was cut, “crime will rise, victims of crime will be let down, public trust in the police will decline exponentially, more and more people will be in crisis will be left without any safety net and the efficiency of an already overburdened criminal justice system will mean that many offenders are unlikely to face any form of sanction and victims will receive any form of justice.’

Asked if he agreed with the Federation’s comments about the rise in crime following the cuts, DCC Page said: “I think if you look at the experience of England and Wales you have to agree.”

SNP MSP Fulton McGregor said the officials’ statements were “the harshest” he had heard in his six years at Holyrood, adding: “We need to sit up and take note.”

Ross Haggart, interim chief executive of Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, later wanted the committee he faced to save up to £43m over the next four years, meaning a quarter of the fire service could be cut.

He said about 780 of the 3,500 full-time operational firefighters could be lost, meaning a loss of personnel for 30 of the 116 full-time fire engines.

He said: “So it gives you the order of magnitude that we would probably be talking about if we were to apply the savings proportionately across the organisation.

“We’re probably going to be talking about 25% of full-time firefighting equipment that won’t be available by the end of the four-year period.”

He said that means it will take longer for crews to respond to incidents.

Options may include changing crews at some stations, decommissioning some fire engines, or closing fire stations.

He said: “We are not going to be able to make savings of this magnitude unless it affects the number of staff in the organization and the operational staff in the organisation.

He said SFRS has full-time and part-time firefighters, so there is no simple direct relationship between the number of firefighters and the SFRS budget.

“We will always strive to protect the provision of services to communities first,” he said.

“But as I said, the current staffing and service delivery model that we have in place is not going to be sustainable in its current form when the resource cost review figures translate into an annual budget for us.”

Mr Green said later: “The warnings from some of the most senior figures in Police Scotland are devastating and appalling. For their deputy chief officer to warn that they can only respond to the most serious incidents is a damning indictment of how the SNP has failed to support our police year after year.

“If these planned cuts are implemented on the SNP’s watch, they will put our communities at serious risk and some crime will be put at the back of the queue, meaning even more victims of crime will be let down.

“David Page’s response was a truly extraordinary admission from the heart of Police Scotland. Our police officers are already overstretched and completely overworked.

“Any further funding cuts will only push them further beyond the breaking point and lead to an increase in crime, as the Police Federation of Scotland has already warned.

“Submissions to the committee from across our justice system are consistently clear and cannot be ignored. David Page’s warnings must force SNP Justice Secretary Keith Brown to abandon these reckless plans and finally give our police the resources they need to protect the public.”

Labor spokeswoman Cathy Clark said: “A properly supported and functioning criminal justice system is central to our democracy, but these dangerous and catastrophic cuts threaten its very existence.

“We now face a situation where the people of Scotland will be left with a gutted justice system, which will only lead to worse outcomes for people across society, and where access to justice will become a privilege only for the wealthy.

“This is the biggest cut to justice services in the history of devolution.

“We cannot have a situation where massive real-world cuts to Police Scotland’s budget of 20% will result in thousands of redundancies in the coming years.

“The SNP government must reconsider their proposed tough cuts to the justice sector.”

Justice Secretary Kate Brown said: “Our largely fixed budgets and limited financial powers mean that the UK Government must provide the Scottish Government with enough funding to support public services and the economy in these difficult times.

“We have already made the difficult choice to support the 2022-23 pay proposals and rightly so, as our police deserve it.

“While policing matters and the setting of budget priorities are always a matter for the Chief Constable, we remain fully committed to using the resources available to us to support the vital work of Police Scotland to deliver effective and responsive policing across Scotland.

“We will work with justice organisations, including Police Scotland and the SPA, to develop and co-ordinate their enforcement plans in response to high-level cost sharing.

“Despite the UK Government’s austerity measures, we have increased police funding year-on-year since 2016-17 and have invested more than £10 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “Responsibility for funding public services has largely been devolved across the UK, but we have given the Scottish Government a record £41 billion a year over the next three years – the highest spending settlement since devolution.”