LOCAL Conservative councillors may have concerns over what a single Scottish police force would mean for the Borders, but their fellow Tory, MSP, John Lamont, believes reforms are vital and fewer forces inevitable.
Last week, Gavin Logan, Conservative Scottish Borders Council (SBC) member for Tweeddale East called for a meeting with Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to clarify concerns over the Scottish Government’s policing reforms. He received widespread backing from council members.
Councillor Logan, a member of Lothian and Borders Police Board, said he believed the SNP Scottish Government had already made its decision over the future of Scottish policing.
“Despite it trying to give the appearance of being interested in consultation on the matter, we can huff and puff all we like but I fear it will make no difference to the outcome,” he said.
He put forward a motion calling on council leader David Parker to ask Mr MacAskill – who is expected to set out the timetable for the creation of a single force next week – for a meeting.
The meeting will seek to confirm what proposals the Scottish Government has for strengthening local accountability in terms of the management of policing; to seek clarification on the business case for the creation of one force; and to gain a clear understanding of why a one-force model may be the preferred option.
Councillor Logan’s fellow Conservative and police board member, Trevor Jones, said he had yet to hear any case for the creation of a single force. And Lib Dem councillor and community safety spokesperson, Alec Nicol, also backed the call for a meeting with the minister.
“I think we all know that here, current performance by the police is high. Will change put that at risk? Structural reform is always expensive and performance drops.
“Also, police might not be accountable to us – but to civil servants and the minister. In effect, a quango. Seven out of eight of the Scottish chief constables are opposed to the single police force idea.”
Mr Parker felt Councillor Logan’s motion to be a “very sensible” one. He continued: “It’s clear we’re going to have have a single service, so it is sensible to engage with the minister and find out what the implications will be for the Borders. I am happy to write to the minister.”
One dissenting voice was that of SNP Councillor Donald Moffat, who dismissed the necessity of having eight chief constables, describing the post as “basically a PR man, the face of the police and it makes no matter whether you have one or eight.” Councillor Moffat added: “What you would have [with a single force] is seven less chauffeur-driven cars.
“It wouldn’t mean much change for our area. It might actually mean we have a lot more say in our local policing. I’m not going to pre-judge what might come out of the meeting with Kenny MacAskill.”
SBC has yet to indicate its preferred model for delivery of policing in Scotland.
Asked for a comment on the concerns of his Tory colleagues on the council, Mr Lamont said if there was no reform, and if people stuck blindly to historical structures with their unnecessary duplications and costs, local communities would be deprived of frontline policing.
“This is the only way we will protect local policing,” he told TheSouthern. “There are concerns about how local accountability will be improved – after all, police boards have largely become weak, invisible and unaccountable.
“But the truth is that if we want to protect front-line policing in the Borders we simply cannot afford the structure that currently exists.”