Single forces must not mean slip in standards

John Lamont
John Lamont

WHILe he welcomed the news that, after much discussion, a date has been set for the streamlining of Scotland’s police force and fire service, Berwickshire and Roxburgh MSP John Lamont has voiced concerns that the move could result in a “drop in standards” in the region.

The setting of the date for the single forces arrived on Tuesday, the same day the matter was discussed by Holyrood’s local government and regeneration committee who heard evidence from the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), Chief Constable Kevin Smith, as well as the Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland and the Scottish Police Services Authority.

At present, there are currently eight police forces nationwide: Central Scotland Police, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, Fife Constabulary, Grampian Police, Lothian and Borders Police, Northern Constabulary, Strathclyde Police and Tayside Police, but the Scottish Government’s Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill will see them all merge into one with police HQ at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan in Fife.

The unitary fire HQ will be based at Perth Community Fire Station.

When the Government’s plans were first revealed last year, former Chief Fire Officer of Lothian and Borders Fire Service said it was the view of the Fire Service that “a regional model would best serve the need to deliver efficiencies,” adding: “what we must ensure is that the safety of the public and firefighters who serve their communities is never compromised in the drive to ensure financial savings and restructure the services.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has made assurances that communities would remain at the heart of the services and local MSP John Lamont said he hoped this would be the case as he had serious concerns about the impact of the move on Berwickshire and the rest of the Borders.

Addressing Tuesday’s announcement, he said: “While it is undoubtedly welcome news that the new single police force will be up and running within the year, thereby avoiding extra costs, I still have major concerns about the accountability that will be provided in areas such as Berwickshire.

“With local police boards being abolished, any real scrutiny for our forces is being removed which could lead to a drop in standards in the service provided to residents in the Borders.

“This is clearly not adequate and that is why I have repeatedly called for locally elected Police Commissioners.

“Elected Commissioners would be responsible for overseeing the delivery and performance of the police service in areas such as Berwickshire, while also providing a vital link with the local community and engaging them in making their area safer.”