Scottish railway policing merger plans on hold

28 Aug 18

Controversial plans to hand the responsibilities of the British Transport Police over to Police Scotland have been put on hold, the Scottish justice secretary has confirmed.

Humza Yousaf yesterday explained the Scottish Government will explore options other than just the merger for devolution of railway policing north of the border.

This comes after concerns from Police Scotland about meeting the Scottish Government’s timetable for the merger.

The Scottish Government announced in February the deadline of spring next year would be extended as more time was needed to discuss issues, such as staff pay and conditions.

"Throughout this process we have been committed to listening to officers and staff,” Yousaf said in a statement, released yesterday.

“As part of that ongoing approach I have decided that we will re-examine all options for the devolution of railway policing, with clear governance structures that ensure accountability to the Scottish Parliament.”

MSPs last June passed the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill to merge the role of the British Transport Police with Police Scotland but the legislation has since met with much opposition.

Labour and Conservatives voted against the legislation and Scottish police bosses have been warning for some time the merger could be “massively complicated”.

Police Scotland are particularly concerned about ICT issues connected to the merger and the possibility this could be done within the Scottish Government’s timeframe.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said it was “time to scrap the merger” instead of “muddling through”.

He said: “The Scottish Government repeatedly refused requests to consult on alternative options, insisting they knew best and that it would be a waste of time. As a result, this merger has gone horribly wrong from day one.”

The “politically-motivated merger is in turmoil”, McArthur added, “leaving BTP officers and staff in limbo”.

The integration of railway policing was a recommendation in the Smith Commission, which gave various proposals for further devolution to Scotland. It was commissioned by then prime minister David Cameron the day following the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014. 

Yousaf said the Scottish Government was “committed to the full integration of railway policing into Police Scotland, as legislated for by the Scottish Parliament and will keep this under review”.

He added there was a “need to identify interim arrangements that could give effect more quickly to the devolution of railway policing, as recommended by the Smith Commission”.

The Scottish Government will bring together Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the British Transport Police and other partners to re-examine available options.

Yousaf said he would update the Scottish Parliament after the summer recess.

In an interview in May with PF’s Kerry Lorimer, chief finance officer for Police Scotland James Gray talked of a force just beginning to financially recover after a difficult first five years.

Police Scotland was itself a merger, formed in 2013 from eight territorial police forces. It still has a funding gap of around £30m.

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