Single police and fire and rescue services in Scotland will bring local services to the heart of communities, according to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Speaking at the launch of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill in the Borders on Tuesday, Mr MacAskill insisted that the Scottish Government had devised the “strongest possible plans” for the future of the services.
The changes will see Scotland’s eight police forces and eight fire services merged into two single national bodies, by April 2013 at the earliest the Scottish Government said. But the scheme is due to be piloted in the Borders this year.
Critics of the move have voiced concerns about the effect on local police accountability, but Mr MacAskill said there would be a “stronger connection” between communities and their local police and fire and rescue services under the new plans.
He said: “The stark reality is that budget cuts from Westminster will devastate our excellent frontline services if we don’t act now.
“The reasons for reform are clear. We need to make a virtue of necessity. Make no mistake – this is the only way to make sure that we don’t lose the major improvements made to police and fire and rescue services in recent years.
“We have devised the strongest possible plans for the future of police and fire services in Scotland which reduce duplication, not the quality of vital services, and deliver estimated efficiency savings of £1.7 billion over 15 years.”
He said that local authorities will approve plans for their area, and that rather than a handful of councillors attending a regional board, many more councillors will have a say in what happens in their area.
Leader of Scottish Borders Council David Parker, who was present at the launch in Galashiels, agreed. He said that as one of the path finder councils in taking the scheme forward, SBC was already working with police and fire and rescue services in the region on the new local arrangements ahead of their formal introduction.
He explained: “At the moment there are 18 members of the Lothian and Borders police board, but the issues that Edinburgh and West Lothian face in terms of policing are often quite different to the issues that we face in the Borders.
“For example, one of our biggest priorities here is reducing road traffic deaths, but this isn’t as much of a problem elsewhere.
“Under the new plans, instead of sending two councillors to the joint board, we will have more councillors on a Borders police committee, which will also involve some of our partners like NHS Borders and housing associations. The Borders committee will draw up a local police and fire plan for the Borders area which basically means we’ll have much more say in local policing and fire service.”