Scots councils call for full involvement in police merger
By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 24 January 2012
Scottish local government leaders have accepted that the
country’s eight regional police forces will be merged into a single national
service, but say councils must be fully involved for the change to work.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities had previously
criticised the merger plan as an encroachment on municipal responsibilities but
now sees it as inevitable following publication of the draft legislation last
Cosla president Pat Watters, speaking at a Holyrood magazine conference in
Edinburgh yesterday, said: ‘Local government has accepted entirely that change
is going to happen, and that we need to work together to ensure we get the
proper outcomes into the future.’
His acquiescence was echoed by the representative bodies for
Scottish police officers. Only the superintendents’ association has backed the
reforms from the outset.
But the organisations also expressed continuing concerns
about the implications for police operational autonomy, accountability,
community involvement and funding.
Heavy emphasis was laid on the independence of the government-appointed
Scottish Police Authority, which will supervise the police at arm’s-length from
the justice secretary.
Kevin Smith, president of the Association of Chief Police
Officers of Scotland, said ‘reform, rather than just restructuring’ was needed
to achieve the scale of savings ministers envisage – £1.7bn over 15 years. He
pointed out that 70% of spending is on frontline officer posts, whose numbers
ministers are pledged to preserve.
Les Gray of the Scottish Police Federation predicted a new
targets culture, while Niven Rennie of the Association of Scottish Police
Superintendents warned ministers against expecting officers to take over
back-office tasks when staffing was cut.
The legislation seeks to preserve local linkages by
designating area commanders in each council area to report through community
planning partnerships. But Watters castigated ministers for failing to embed
the changes in a wider outcomes-based reform of public services, achieved by
involving councils more.
‘Efficiencies alone in the police won’t deliver what is
necessary. You won’t close the gap by just cutting back offices,’ he said.
‘Who is going to police the reform of the police, the change
to a single structure? Who is going to oversee that and make sure we get out of
it what we want?’