Tuesday, June 21, 2011

219 responses on future of Scottish policing considered by Policing Board, single Scottish National Police Force takes another step forward

Dear All

There has been a consultation on the future of Scotland's police service which I favour being turned into a single national force.

I felt so strongly that this was the right idea that I went and proposed this at the SNP National Assembly in Perth on the 4th September 2010.

The Scottish government wants to reform the current structure and move away from eight separate forces.

That makes sense.

The financial crisis has focused minds to be sure but prior to this, there was already a case; money just nudged things along in the right direction.

But there are critics of a single force who have something in common, vested interests.

Labour Councillors sit on a number of Police boards, when reform comes; they are worried; they fear they might lose their ‘jobs’.

And we are talking serious money, Glasgow Labour Councillor Stephen Curran get a very healthy £20,294 on top of his Councillor salary.

The tact of the critics is they have concerns about local accountability and political interference.

Local accountability is easy solved by retaining current boards, but there needs to be a national board above this.

And I don’t care enough to take their money off them if they get onboard just to shut them up.

As an additional layer of accountability, I favour a cross party committee at Holyrood as an oversight committee, not involved in operational matters on a day to day basis but rather providing an additional layer of security.

Although the new Chief Constable will be answerable to the national board, he/she will not be allowed to run riot.

So, far there has been 219 responses to the consultation which will be discussed at a meeting of the Scottish Policing Board.

Detailed proposals are likely to be announced later in the year.

SNP Ministers are said to be leaning towards a single Scottish police force, with Labour and Tories also backing the idea.

The Lib Dems aren’t, which is surprising, their local accountability argument is nonsense since some operational areas are vast.

A government paper being presented at the board meeting seeks to address concerns raised over accountability and governance.

It says:

"Strong arguments were identified in favour of a single police service, but questions remained about accountability and centralisation."

It also suggests that a single force could be governed by a police board operating independently of ministers.

But the reality is we need an additional tier of accountability at Holyrood.

The government paper also details examples of other countries with a single force, including Northern Ireland, Finland and New Zealand, and outlines the way they maintain local accountability and political independence.

Cosla, the umbrella group representing councils in Scotland, has criticised the consultation process.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Cosla spokeswoman Councillor Barbara Grant expressed "deep dissatisfaction" and accused the government of trying to create a "fictional consensus" in support of a single police force.

A Scottish government spokesman said:

"No decisions have been taken on police reform and none will be taken at the meeting. The Scottish government has involved stakeholders at every stage of the reform process and we want to ensure this involvement continues. Each partner will have the opportunity to examine the consultation responses in full and engage with ministers as we consider the most appropriate way forward in the coming weeks and months."

He added:

"We have consistently made it clear that local accountability and the protection of local services will be at the heart of any reform that we undertake of the police service."

The responses to the government's consultation will be published in full on the internet after the Policing Board meeting.

It will be interesting to see if the Scottish Government’s version is similar to proposals I put forward.

Or whether they have a different version but one thing we can be sure is that change is coming, hopefully, the framework will be right first time.

Since I already stuck in my proposal last year at the SNP National Assembly, I didn’t stick in a response.

I just hope they stick with my suggestion and don’t try to get ‘creative’.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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