by a Newsnet reporterYesterday in Holyrood Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill officially announced the Government’s plan to merge Scotland’s police forces into a single national force and to merge the regional fire and emergency services into one national service. The mergers are expected to generate savings of over £130m annually by reducing costs and shedding duplicated support staff and high ranking police officers.
The Scottish Government believes the merger will guarantee the provision of front line police officers and firefighters as the Scottish budget faces swingeing cuts imposed by Westminster.In a bid to allay critics who feared the loss of local control over the police force, Mr MacAskill said that local councillors could have a role in holding their local senior officer to account. The Justice Secretary said this move would put local councils at the heart of the new system.
An eight week consultation period will now take place. Labour and the Conservatives in Holyrood cautiously welcomed the proposals, although Labour’s Johann Lamont insisted that it was “short on details”.
The SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern said: “All of our communities are rightly proud of the professionalism and dedication of our police services.
“Crime is now at a 35-year low and detection rates are improving, helped by 1,000 extra officers on the streets.
“However the future of this excellent service is under threat from the spectre of huge financial cuts from Westminster – and the Scottish Government will not let this happen.
“But we have the opportunity to make a virtue of necessity. By reforming, we can make sure money is spent on the frontline and not on unnecessary duplication across eight services.
“Reform will protect local services and strengthen connections with communities. The new services will devolve a lot of power to local area commanders, who will be given significant autonomy to deliver the right priorities for communities.
“At the same time we will ensure more local councillors have a say in shaping services in their area.”
At present only 146 councillors across all 32 authorities have a role in management of the police.
Under the new proposals every councillor in every local authority could play a part in ensuring the local police respond to the needs of local communities.
Highlands and Islands MSP and former police officer John Finnie backed Mr MacAskill’s reforms.
Mr Finnie said: “A single police force will mean a better police service for Scotland. Local communities want to see police on the beat and they want to know who to talk to about their concerns.
“This arrangement ensures every community in Scotland has a direct link to Scotland’s police service.
“In my own area there are only 16 Highland councillors out of 80 with a place on the police board. In nearby Aberdeen only six councillors serve on Grampian police board.
“This reform will mean every councillor in every council area will have the opportunity to hold the local senior officer responsible for the actions of the police in the north of Scotland.
“Not only will this help to keep Scotland’s streets safe it will ensure we have a police service fit for the ever changing challenges of the future and I am pleased to see Scotland’s chief constables getting behind the proposal.
“I hope that after today’s statement those who have been scaremongering about centralisation or political control will withdraw their attacks and recognise that this new service will offer greater contact with the police for communities, focus our police service on the future and protect our police officers.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland agreed that under the present economic climate the merger was the correct course of action to take. The Association believes that the Scottish public will not experience any changes in front-line policing as a result of the change.
Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Stephen House, Chief Constable of Strathclyde said:
“At a time when budgets are being cut, every pound we spend has to deliver the type of results the public wants.
“We have to shape our own destiny and we have to put aside any past difficulties some of us may have had with the concept of the single force. It is down to us to make sure we create a modern, united service that the entire country can be proud of.”