Monday, August 15, 2011

SNP Government to legislate for a new single Scottish police force, biggest justice shake up in 35 years to go ahead, George Laird was right again

Dear All

The verdict is in Scotland’s eight police forces are to be merged into a single national service.

In truth, the idea that it would be anything is else is nonsense, in September 2010, I travelled to Perth to the SNP National Assembly, the event was to see what ideas a Scottish Government should take forward.

So, with my trusty packed lunch, I set off for Perth because I had never been to one of these events before.

When I got there, I saw many people I knew in passing and bumped into a friend who asked me what I was going to propose.

Quick as a flash I replied; a single national police force and fire service.

As luck would have it, he said he was also here to do the same thing regarding the police.

I said that since we are on the same wavelength lets both sit down at the public sector reform table.

When I brought the subject up, there was a lively debate but in my set proposals all the obstacles of objection I batted away.

The key concern of localism was addressed.

We need a several layers of accountability in the new national police force, so I proposed that there should be a cross party committee in Holyrood, a national board and the retention of the local boards that operate at present.

This would ensure that the new Chief Constable would be answerable and held accountable for his decisions.

September 2010.

Two months later, Labour MSP Iain Gray came out favour, and on the 12th January 2011, the Scottish Government announced a consultation.

But the result was never in doubt.

This is the biggest justice shake-up for 35 years, but there is more that isn’t in the consultation which is needed, we have seen fractured communities in England caused by the riots.

I therefore also proposed a massive expansion of the Special Constable section which operates within the police backing up regular officers.

We have seen and already know of the alienation that exists laid bare by the riots.

The police cannot have good community relations if they don’t embed themselves in the community.

Special Constables allow for that to happen.
This flagship policy will be announced after the Scottish Government unveils its legislative programme on September 7.

And it is going through. Senior police officers have already been informed of the plan.

Although money has focused people’s minds on public sector reform, there are good operational reasons for the single force; this in my opinion needs to be highlighted more.

All police funding for the national force must be solely the province of the Scottish Government.

At present Scotland’s 32 councils, which provide half the £1.4 billion budget for the Police are unhappy.

Understandably the new idea has provoked wide spread fear among some local politicians, they get paid to sit on police boards.

Labour Councillor Stephen Curran is on about £20k as the Convenor of the Strathclyde Board.

Plus his councillor salary and expenses!

The reason I want current boards kept is not to put money into politicians’ pockets but to be able to present a comprehensive local view in various areas and to address issues of localism.

As I say money has focussed minds and they should be, Scottish police budgets are projected to shrink by £1.7bn in real terms over the next 15 years.

But regardless the public still expect a first class service.

A leaked draft business case produced by civil servants shows a single force would deliver the most efficient and the biggest savings to the public.

It says a single force would cost around £207 million to deliver over five years, but save £390m over the same period, and save £1.9bn over 15 years.

I think, everyone should back this idea, yes, it is radical but once it is properly set up and running, we should have a better service.

The trick is that it is set up properly.

The biggest threat to this idea is fear, politicians in some respects play follow the leader and we have also seen that some people couldn’t careless unless it affects them personally.

So, to smooth the way, I say keep current boards and also create a national board, let some of those on local boards be eligible to sit on the national board and allow ordinary citizens the opportunity to sit on it.

As well as the SNP, both Labour and the Tories support a single force, while the Liberal Democrats oppose it.

The Lib Dems cite losing local accountability as their objection, but given the area of Strathclyde, why did they never campaign for the break up of this force?

Their argument doesn’t hold water.

The business plan of a single force would have one chief constable, instead of the present eight, and the current 27 divisions would be cut to 15, each with its own chief superintendent.

To maintain local accountability and community links there would also be 32 “local policing units” based on council boundaries.

Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said:

“We believe a single police force is the best way to maintain police numbers and the best way to provide an equal service across the country. Crime is not restricted by geographical boundaries, so why are we? We need a new model fit for the 21st century.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie attacked the proposal, saying:

“Kenny MacAskill seems hell-bent on ignoring the mass of informed public opinion on the single police force. He claims to be consulting, but it is more of a PR exercise. Clear evidence shows this plan will cost money, not save money, and it will give the Justice Secretary absolute control over the police, which is a dangerous step.”

The rather unfortunately thing about this proposal is politicians wanting to play politics with it.

In this country we have a national UK border agency, national British transport police, national customs and revenue and also a national prison service all operating in Scotland.

No one is calling for these agencies and bodies to be broken up.

This idea is the biggest justice shake-up for 35 years but it has to be done right and I consider that everyone should look closely at the details before this comes online.

And yet again, George Laird was right and ahead of the curve.

Now, to my next idea, National Fire Service.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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