Local emergency service leaders and politicians have reacted with a mixture of disappointment and concern to Scottish Government plans to merge Scotland’s police forces and fire brigades into national services.
The plans, unveiled last week as part of the SNP Government’s legislative programme, will see the present 8 police and fire services merge to create single, national, emergency services, similar to the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The plans are part of a move which the Government hopes will lead to increased financial and operational efficiencies and financial savings of £130 million each year, and have been endorsed by First Minister Alex Salmond as being necessary to ensure safer communities.
Grampian Chief Constable Colin McKerracher had earlier spoken out against a single force. However, in a statement issued by Grampian Police, he reaffirmed the force’s commitment to ensuring a quality service.
“I have always said that change is necessary and that, as a force, Grampian Police would get behind whatever decision was taken by the Scottish Government on the future of Scottish policing”, he said.
“Grampian Police will continue to contribute to the debate on the future of policing in Scotland to ensure that the interests of the people of Grampian are represented. It is our duty to those who live in this corner of Scotland to ensure a high quality service is maintained within this region.
“What I think we need to maintain are the critical support services and professional skills which enable our officers to carry out their roles to the high standard that they currently do. It is essential that we do not reverse the advancements of the past decade and see the unnecessary return of police officers to support functions and risk losing officers from the communities they are serving at this point in time.”
Grampian Chief Fire officer David Dalzeil said he accepted the decision but was ‘disappointed’ that the professional views of the service had been ‘ignored’, and expressed his concerns over possible staff reductions.
“This announcement at least ends speculation over the number of services in Scotland but leaves continued uncertainty and concern”, he said. “There are many new questions raised that we don’t have answers to so we need to seek that clarity from those who have imposed the change.
“Our staff will work to try and ensure the development of the new single service matches the high standards communities of Grampian expect, and to try and deliver a positive North East legacy into any new organisation.”
Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership also voiced its concerns and disappointment over the plans through Council Leader Anne Robertson.
“Aberdeenshire is a rural area with unique challenges which we believe are best met through local democratic and accountability arrangements”, she said. “The centralisation of service provision would be at odds with the delivery of the community empowerment and development agenda.
North East Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes, who is also her party’s justice spokesperson, said she was ‘extremely concerned’ that a single police force would mean placing great power in the hands of the Justice Secretary, the Lord Advocate and the Chief Constable.
“Kenny MacAskill needs to give real assurances that his plans will not politicise the police in Scotland”, she said. “The SNP’s flawed plans could see many more police officers disappear from our streets, so the fall in officer number over the last year looks like something we will have to get used to.
“The two services in Grampian rightly have high reputations. This is being jeopardised by removing local accountability and local command. With regard to the fire service, I have challenged the Scottish Government to guarantee that retained and volunteer stations will not be affected by plans.
However, Aberdeenshire East MSP and First Minister Alex Salmond defended the plans.
“Our police and fire and rescue services are a credit to Scotland and our communities are rightly proud of the hard work and dedication that they show to their profession”, he said.
“The future of these fine services must be protected from the huge financial cuts from Westminster and we have the opportunity to reform by eliminating unnecessary duplication across eight services. This will free up resources for frontline policing and fire & rescue, retaining local services for local communities.
“A single police force and a single fire service will deliver a safer Aberdeenshire East, building on the good work already being delivered in our communities. It is vital that we reform to build on these achievements, putting bobbies before boundaries, and making sure money is spent on the frontline.”