Council demands summit on policing

COUNCILLORS will today demand an urgent meeting with Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill ahead of next month’s anticipated announcement that a single police force will be created in Scotland.

But elected members at Newtown are also expected to distance themselves from the tidal wave of hostility to the new single force set-up – replacing the current eight constabularies including Lothian & Borders – currently being orchestrated by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA).

Pat Watters, president of CoSLA, representing all 32 Scottish councils which pay half the annual £1.4billion cost of policing, has asked SBC to write to Mr MacAskill opposing the single force.

“Don’t delay – save the police force in your area today,” extolls Mr Watters.

That call is unlikely to be taken up. Indeed, during this summer’s consultation into change, driven by massive public spending cuts, in policing services, SBC declined to express a preference on the options of the status quo, a three-force structure or the single force which Mr MacAskill so patently favours.

Instead, councillors wanted assurances that whatever reform is announced when Holyrood resumes on September 7, it will produce no cuts in frontline policing and “a distinct and identifiable local command structure with robust control management structure, staffing establishment and budget” within the SBC and NHS Borders area.

Following a private meeting of SBC’s administration this week, it was agreed that Conservative councillor Gavin Logan, one of two council representatives on Lothian and Borders Police Board, should table a motion, instructing leader David Parker to seek an urgent meeting with Mr MacAskill.

“We need to clarify the issues surrounding the creation of a single police force which, regardless of the huffing and puffing of CoSLA, is a done deal,” said Mr Logan.

“We want Mr MacAskill to confirm his proposals for strengthening local accountability in terms of management of policing, and I personally will be pushing for a strong local policing committee, based on current G division boundaries and served by elected members, with a realistic budget.

“We also need clarification on the business case for the creation of a single force and get a clear understanding of why this option is preferred.”

Mr Logan’s wants the councillor delegation meeting Mr MacAskill to comprise himself, fellow police board member Trevor Jones, community safety spokesperson Alec Nicol, SNP opposition leader Donald Moffat and Mr Parker.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said yesterday: “Any request for a meeting will be considered and responded to once we have received it.

“As the Cabinet Secretary [Mr MacAskill] set out on his visit to the Borders last month, our police reform programme is all about ensuring that the excellent community policing he witnessed in the region is sustained and improved, allowing senior officers in the Borders to continue to set the priorities for their neighbourhoods.

“Increasing local accountability and deepening democratic involvement in policing will be at the heart of our proposals to create a strengthened police service.

“As at present, there will be a clear separation between ministers and operational policing matters, with robust governance arrangements.

“With the help of the 1,000 additional officers provided by this Government and lowest crime levels for 32 years, communities are already benefiting from effective policing.

“However the status quo cannot continue. In the face of Westminster budget cuts, reform is vital to protect and improve local services.”