Local control and accountability essential in police and fire reforms, says council

EXISTING police arrangements in the Borders are working well and should only be changed if the principles of local accountability and control are maintained.

That was the message Scottish Borders Council has sent to the Scottish Government which is consulting on the future structure of the service.

Options include the status quo of eight police forces, a rationalised model of three or four forces and a single force to cover the whole of Scotland.

Last week, the council declined to specify which of the scenarios it preferred, but instead urged the law-makers at Holyrood to ensure any changes to the police and the fire and rescue service – which is also under review – provide “a strong and cohesive response which is consistent and aligned to wider public sector delivery across the Borders”.

The council, one of six local authorities which funds both emergency services in Lothian and Borders, heard that the overall crime rate in the region had, since 2005/06, fallen by an average of seven per cent per year to 361 crimes per 10,000 of population, compared with a Scottish average total of 651.

The Borders also benefited from having one of the highest detection rates in Scotland, and councillors heard “partnership working at local level” was a key driver in that success.Members unanimously agreed that the following principles, drafted by Jan Pringle, SBC’s community safety policy officer, should inform changes in both police and fire services:

z A distinct and identifiable local command structure with robust control management structure, staffing establishment and budget.

z Locally agreed priorities corresponding to local problems and needs.

z Co-terminous area boundaries consistent with SBC and NHS Borders

z Joint funding arrangements whereby councils retain and devolve and element of funding for police and fire/rescue and transparency in resource deployment.

z Enhanced accountability through localised police and fire committees.

z An equitable level of service provision, quality and responsiveness of service across the Borders.

The council’s response also stresses that reforming police services cannot be considered in isolation from other public sector reforms or funding decisions affecting the Borders.

It states: “Public expenditure is not only important in sustaining the local economy [an estimated 12,000 people in the region are employed in the public sector], it also supports population retention in our fragile communities while providing opportunities for volunteering.

“The police service in the region depends on volunteering in remote and rural communities for community safety outcomes to be achieved.”