Police and Fire Bill passed to a mixed reaction

THere’s been a mixed reaction to say the least on the Scottish Parliament’s decision to pass Government legislation which will streamline both police and fire services in Scotland, with Berwickshire MP Michael Moore saying ministers “need to go back to the drawing board.”

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, which is due to come into force in April 2013, creates a single Police Service of Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, a move which the Scottish Government claim will best serve communities and meet the demands of the 21st century.

They say that by reducing duplication across the eight police forces and eight fire and rescue services and working more effectively and efficiently, the legislation will free up resources for frontline services and save £1.7 billion over 15 years.

Justice Secretary Kenny Mackaskill said the Bill was ‘the best way to protect frontline policing and fire and rescue’ but Michael Moore has blasted the move as “a power grab” on the part of the SNP and said it had massive potential to jeopardise emergency services locally.

He commented: “These moves by the SNP Government to merge Scotland’s eight police and fire services into a centralised body will erode local accountability and concentrate too much power in the hands of the Justice Secretary.

“The Liberal Democrats have always maintained that emergency services should be funded, managed and delivered locally and this power-grab from the SNP is ill-advised and will end the vital link between our police and fire services and local communities.

“This is why the Lib Dems are calling on the Scottish Government to go back to the drawing board and rethink these damaging plans. We want to keep our Lothian and Borders police force and fire brigade because we want a local service which listens to Borderers, not politicians in Edinburgh.”

MSP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, John Lamont too admitted that he had serious concerns about any potential negative impact the streamlining will have on services in the region.

“These reforms will have a huge impact on how our police and fire forces operate in Scotland and will hopefully save a considerable amount of money that can be reinvested in our services,” he said.

“However, I have deep concerns about the amount of local accountability that will be provided by a single police force and despite efforts to change this the SNP have chosen to ignore them.

“I have a huge amount of admiration for all of the men and women who serve in our fire and police services, but I do not want to see them left unaccountable to the local communities they serve.

“These reforms are deeply flawed and the SNP need to listen to the legitimate concerns held on all sides of the political spectrum to ensure that we maintain the link between communities in the Borders and the police and fire forces that serve them.”

The passing of the Bill has received a warmer welcome from police and fire officials with Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland chair David Dalziel, commenting: “The Bill has been shaped by the various committees that have steered its progress, and we are proud of the contribution we and all stakeholders from across the services have made to that process.

“As Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill noted, our services are already excellent. A single service will not change that but will offer us a unique opportunity to do more.

“As we look forward to April 2013, our goal will be to build upon the best of our current eight services and deliver a new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in partnership with Scottish Government and the Trades Unions; together we can ensure that we protect and serve the people of Scotland.”

And Chief Constable Kevin Smith, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, who is leading the reform of the service said the current high standards of policing would be maintained.

He commented: “The single service won’t be a success just because there is a new law - as crucial as that legal framework is. It will be a success because of its people and right now officers and staff at all ranks and grades from across the country are working hard to ensure the building blocks of the new Service are in place for April next year.

“Our priority in creating the new Service is to maintain the current high levels of policing performance and public confidence while enhancing the service we deliver for communities the length and breadth of Scotland.”