Police forces likely to merge

THE long arm of the law looks set to become even longer in Berwickshire as spending cuts start to bite.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 26th October 2010, 8:29 am

Police force budgets are to be slashed so drastically that Lothian and Borders Police is likely to be merged with other police forces in Scotland.

Budget cuts of up to 25 per cent over four years are expected.

As a result a working group of police, government and local authority represenatives has recommended merging to either three forces or even just one covering the whole of Scotland.

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Scotland has eight forces, each with at least three chief officers - a chief constable, their deputy and assistant - although Lothian and Borders has four chief officers and Strathclyde has five.

Merging would lead to a cut in chief officers who command the hightest salaries and mean many back-office functions such as payroll, IT and human resources could be shared.

However, the Scottish Police Federation fears that 2,800 police jobs will go to save £88million.

This week First Minister Alex Salmond announced plans to reduce the number of forces as the savage cuts in public spending approach.

He pledged he would take action that would cut administration costs but maintain the number of police officers on the beat, putting “bobbies before boundaries”.

Mr Salmond said the country was facing “the most ferocious series of cuts in our lifetimes” and pointed out that a quarter of the £1.4billion police budget was spend on administration.

“We have eight forces in Scotland, one of which (Strathclyde) covers almost half of the population,” he explained.

“In times like these we must protect the frontline and so I make this pledge.

“If it comes down to a choice bewteen bobbies on the beat and the boundaries of police authorities then it is simple.

“It’s policemen first, safety first, communities first - bobbies before boundaries.”

“When times are tough we shall always protect the most vulnerable. Poeple tell me, no matter where I am in this nation, that the one thing they dread is the thought of feeling vulnerable in their own communities.

“People deserve to feel safe in their own homes, on their streets and in their lives.

“It was with a source of great pride when we delivered 1000 extra policemen to the streets of Scotland. With crime at a 32-year low that has worked.

“But I will not see that secruity evaporate in the heat of Cameron and Clegg’s cuts.”

The announcement of the shake-up was given a cautious welcome by police officers’ organisations who underlined the importance of making sure the proposal did not compromise operational policing.

David O’Connor, president of the Assocation of Scottish Police Superintendents said: “We’ve been lobbying the justice secretary and the Scottish Government for some time to have a strategic review of policing.

“We believe the eight force model is not sustainable.

“I understand there is now a Scottish Government group looking at policing structures. We need to develop a sustainable policing model that serves Scotland, not just in the immediate future but in the next few decades.

“We would simply ask that all options be considered and we choose the best to fit in with the primary policy of frontline operational policing.”

Assisant Chief Constable Cliff Anderson. general secretary of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said the police budgets would be slashed by between 16 and 25 per cent in the next parliamentary term .

He said forces were looking to work together but warned the “provision of responsive, accountable and accessible policing services is not negotiable.”

Les Gray, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “We are willing to discuss mergers and amalgamations.

“However, there needs to be a proper business case to show it is viable in relation to finance and the service it provides to people in Scotland. We need a business case rather than a wish list.”

Senior police figures, including Stephen House, the Strathclyde Chief Constable, have called for the introduction of one police force covering the whole of Scotland but this week no-one at Lothian and Borders HQ was willing to make any comment on Mr Salmond’s announcement.

It is believed Government ministers are looking at cutting Scotland’s eight forces to around three.