THE GRAMPIAN Police Chief Constable has spoken out on the future of policing across Scotland, describing proposals for reform in Scotland as “unnecessary and costly”, and warning of reductions in police strength if forecast savings are to be achieved.
His comments came in an open letter, signed also by the Chief Constables of Dumfries and Galloway and Northern Constabulary, in which the senior officers cast doubt on the wisdom of reducing the number of police forces in Scotland from the present eight to a possible single force.
However, in a statement, the Scottish Government Community Safety Minister has responded that the Scottish Government is seeking a consensus on plans for change, emphasising that a consultation process on the future of Scottish policing is still underway.
The Chief Constables described their intervention as an ‘honest appraisal’ of what they believe is best for the Scottish Police Service. Calling for an ‘evidence based’ approach, they criticised what they described as a debate over structures, “where almost all of the effort and political rhetoric appears to be focused on a single police force for Scotland, with little quality research or value being attached to a robust evidential approach.”
They described public satisfaction with the police as being at an “all time high”, something they attributed to “local governance, accountability and responsiveness”. Claiming that almost all major public sector reform since 1980 had ‘failed’, the officers stated that there was a lack of “hard evidence” that “a move to a single force would deliver greater fiscal efficiency, better governance or service improvements.”
“To restructure the police service alone given the cost, upheaval and uncertainty of any real benefit would be a step too far”, they said. “Effective partnership arrangements are in place, with significant potential for continuing development and the justification for interfering with them just does not exist.
“Any significant changes to our current policing structures will be expensive and even in the longer-term would come with no guarantee of delivering savings”, they continued. “One thing that is clear to us is that maintenance of the front line at current strengths will be impossible in a changed structure if budgets continue to be reduced on the scale proposed.”
A single police force has been advocated by the Labour and Conservative parties during the election campaign as a means of reducing overall policing costs. The SNP has given support in principle to a reduction in the number of forces, but has not ruled out having more than one if there is support for this following the current Scottish Government consultation. The Liberal Democrats have opposed the reform proposals, and advocate retention of all eight current forces.
Responding to the letter, the Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said: “The Scottish Government issued the consultation on reform options with the aim of securing consensus - which the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents who support a single force, and the Scottish Police Federation who voted against it, and many others, are engaging in very constructively.
“The appropriate time to decide on whether the reform option should be a regional structure of three or four, or one force, is once all the evidence and views have been received in response to the consultation.”