A single Scottish police force

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by Hazel Lewry

Like it or not, in all likelihood a single police force is coming.  Whether it should happen or not, what our personal opinion of the probable upcoming merger is, is largely irrelevant.

I also suspect that whatever the Scottish Government position is, what it would really have preferred, is also irrelevant.

Holyrood may eventually have taken this current path through choice, it also may not have.  Time would have made our government’s true preferences clear.  Unfortunately our elected representatives were not permitted time.

The mandarins of Whitehall are cutting the “pocket money” allocated to a nation in surplus.  Scottish policing is simply another facet of life north of the border that’s being backed into a corner so that Westminster’s profligacy can be maintained.

Putting issues into perspective, the largest force budget (Strathclyde) is a little under £500 million, the other seven forces appear to contribute to a total budget around £1.5 billion per year.  Data varies as police forces raise funding through other billable areas such as football matches and public-private events.

Putting this in context, I’ll reference Trident, as that is something we specifically don’t want, as against good policing, which the majority of us certainly do want.

If he is to be believed, Nick Clegg puts the total cost of Trident at £100 billion over 25 years.  That’s £4 billion a year across the UK for something that will never be used.  Knowing Westminster this probably should be considered a low estimate.

Scotland’s police can expect somewhere close to a 10% budget cut in the next couple of years, basing that number upon the reductions coming from Westminster.  That’s a real cut in something that benefits all of us.   This is allowing the police get treated equitably and are not “ring fenced”.

The police then have to come up with about 10% of nominally £1.5 billion in savings, or £150 million per year across the board.

To put this in context Scotland has an equitable stake in Trident of about 10% based on population – Trident is then set to cost Scotland around £400 million per year.

It looks like that by simply scraping something we don’t want we could maintain our budget for policing, allowing a proper and deep review in the fullness of time.  Perhaps the optimum policing solution might have been a 3 way merger of constabularies, with something approximating Highland, Central and Southern forces, at least initially until attrition permitted a simple single force, if that is what was ultimately desired in the fullness of time.

Interestingly there’d have been enough cash left over to fund any potential education gap and then after we had some police efficiencies perhaps we could have ploughed what’s left into elderly care and the NHS.  We could even have allocated a portion to re-industrialization.  Looking after those who have given a life’s service to our nation, or supplying a future to the next generation seems to me to be a good use of our revenues.  Something designed never to be used, or that will conceivably be of benefit to our nation, something simply to be retained as a “threat” does not.

None of these options will be ours because, quite simply, of a combination of Westminster profligacy and a need for the antiquated notion of “Rule Britannia”, the conceited concept that the inhabitants of this small island group must grandstand on the world’s stage.  This while the rural English are now being forced to haul their rubbish to remote collection points every few weeks, leaving it overnight for collection the next day.  The rats appreciate this service cut if no-one else does.

So a single police force, like fortnightly rubbish collections in Glasgow is likely to be forced upon us, both through hegemony and profligacy at various government levels.  Both these governmental levels should hang their heads in shame.  They are betraying the electorate and therefore grossly straying from any mandate they may have believed they had.  They are elected to care for our best interests, not their own.

But what of a new Scottish Police Force, what will it do, and to whom will it be responsible.  We hear that COSLA are against it, but then COSLA seem to be against anything that might help us through the difficult period of what remains of this present time of Union.

Reportedly COSLA are so opposed to a single force that they are claiming to represent the views of all Scotland’s 32 councils in this matter, councils who currently pay half the annual £1.4 billion cost of policing and who they claim want to retain eight forces.  I wonder if COSLA can arrange for my Highland estates that I’ve always wanted but never been quite able to manage.  Ullapool’s really nice.

COSLA are telling any who will listen there is no evidence to justify the police merger and that they fear it will lead to a poorer service.  With this stance in mind they are organizing a meeting of about 100 opponents of the scheme, to take place in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

The plan is for a one-day conference organised by the council umbrella group which they hoped Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill would attend to put forward the case for a single force.  As intergovernmental consultations have already taken place, Mr. MacAskill has reportedly declined the invitation but has promised that local authorities will continue to be closely involved in the shaping of policing within their boundaries.

But COSLA needs to aim its protests at Westminster, not MacAskill.  COSLA needs to get behind MacAskill and help him find a workable solution until such time as we truly control our own affairs.  That is the constructive way to avoid ruin.

The plan bullet points, which will have an impact on all of us, appear to be eminently sensible at the current stage of refinement.

 

  • The Chief Constable of the new national Scottish police force will report to MSPs annually.  MSPs are expected to be able to direct overall policy.
  • There will be staffing cuts, it’s a given although not specifically spelled out. These are anticipated to be in duplicated senior positions and support staff.
  • A local commander will work with local councils to make every effort to meet specific area needs and respond to community requests.
  • There’s an estimate of £1.7 billion of savings over 15 years.  Somehow it may not be enough.
  • The draft plan is a result of a consultation process involving over 120 Scottish organizations, including the COSLA members.
  • The present set up of eight forces was concluded to be most desirable, but most unaffordable.
  • Start up costs for the single force are expected to be around £200 million, with as much as 1/3 of that number allocated for voluntary redundancy.  At least Scotland has an economy with the potential of absorbing these individuals as opposed to simply swelling the dole queues.
  • Wage bills for support staff are projected to quickly reduce by over £65 million a year.
  • Wage bills for officers are projected to quickly reduce by over £45 million a year.  This means quite simply that officer numbers must be reduced, or officer wages and benefits must be reduced – call it a Union Dividend.

It appears we are soon to see the start of the next phase of Scotland’s Union “benefits”, a round of cuts that could quite simply be avoided – and remember we are a nation in surplus – by sending less of our resources and hard earned cash to Westminster simply so that Westminster can continue to grandstand on the international stage.

Scotland appears set to soon come to the realization that is quickly dawning upon the Germans, that it is inappropriate for a nation in surplus to continually and consistently bail out those around it who quite simply can’t seem to manage their own affairs.