a FORMER top Borders policeman and a member of Lothian and Borders Fire Board have warned that politics cannot get involved in the decision-making of police or fire services in the region under the new single force model.
Andrew Farquhar and Leaderdale and Melrose councillor John Paton-Day spoke out after it was announced that the Borders would pilot the new local structure a year before it is rolled out across Scotland from April 2013.
Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker launched the Police and Reform Bill in Galashiels on Tuesday, which is the latest step towards national police and fire bodies being set up.
And they argued that the local system – which will see a committee of councillors formed for regular meetings with to-be-appointed divisional policing commander and senior fire officer for the Borders – will increase local accountability.
But Mr Farquhar, who was a depute divisional commander with G Division and was also head of CID in the region for 10 years, is wary of the single force, which will aim to save £1.7billion over 15 years.
Mr Farquhar said: “The divisional commander has to have total control of operational matters.
“Councillors must be kept at arm’s length from that. We cannot have political interference in any way with operational matters – that must be the case, otherwise it will cause trouble.
“I have reservations about a Scottish police force, but I am pleased to see the pilot scheme being launched in the Borders, which will look to improve local accountability.
“That is quite important for the Borders which is an ideal area for testing this scheme – it is a convenient size and easy to assess.
“Of course, the main concern with this national police force will be how it affects rural areas. We have to be very wary about it and we have to continue to put forward the rural policing case.”
A long-standing critic of the single force reforms, Mr Paton-Day described the Scottish Government and SBC’s belief that the new arrangements will improve regional responsibility as “nonsense”.
The Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board member told us: “We are going to have 32 small committees (for each council in Scotland) with no input at all in the running of the police or fire brigade services. I think they will have a small, quiet voice and will end up working against each other.
“The minister (Mr MacAskill) will appoint a chief constable (for Police Service of Scotland) and politics should play no part in our policing. That is unacceptable and it’s wrong.”
The Scottish Government say both emergency forces will be independent, but subject to parliamentary scrutiny. And Mr MacAskill is adamant the new model will, in fact, provide an improved service.
He told TheSouthern: “At the moment, two Borders councillors go to a meeting at Fettes once a month for Lothian and Borders Police. We will make sure there is a committee in the Borders for councillors where the divisional commander can meet them, so they are playing an active part in policing the local community.
“There will be better accountability, better working models and the opportunity for Borders police to tie into with what can only be supplied on a national basis.”
Mr MacAskill fielded questions from officers at Galashiels Police Station as part of his visit to the town, and said he reassured them about their futures.
“The first concern for officers was were they going to be removed,” he added. “Would they find themselves being moved from Hawick to Halkirk? The short answer is no, that is not going to happen. We will not be relocating officers the length and breadth of Scotland.”
The new SBC group for police and fire services could be set up as early as March ahead of May’s council elections, provided councillors back the plan at a full council meeting on January 26.
Councillor Parker told TheSouthern: “The local arrangements will pretty much remain the same.
“G Division (headquarters) will remain in Hawick, we will have a new local, dedicated policing commander, specially looking at the Borders area, and I don’t think anyone will notice any changes when the new service comes into being.
“I don’t envisage any difficulties at all. We have a first-class fire and police service in our region and we work extremely well with our colleagues in these services.
“They deliver good quality services which all the statistics point out, so there is no doubt in my mind that arrangements will continue as they have in the past and I honestly think in a few years’ time these new arrangements will strengthen local accountability.”