THE decision has been taken – Scotland is to have a single police force – and justice minister Kenny MacAskill MP has agreed to meet senior councillors at Newtown to discuss the implications of the radical shake-up for the Borders.
In so doing, he is agreeing to a request last month from Scottish Borders Council (SBC) which passed a motion demanding assurances that the new set-up will result in 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.
Mr MacAskill’s announcement on the reforms came on Thursday, the day after First Minister Alex Salmond set out his government’s legislative programme and said the single force would create a service fit for 21st century Scotland and was “the only way to maintain the numbers of officers in every community, right across Scotland”.
How the creation of single forces for police and fire services will work in practice is, as part of the legislative process, the subject of a further consultation paper, with a deadline of November 2 for responses.
But Mr MacAskill said both services would be improved and links with communities would be strengthened.
He said there would be more local governance than the present set-up whereby two Borders councillors sit on the Lothian and Borders Police Board.
“Our proposals will see that number increase significantly as more elected members have a say,” Mr MacAskill said.
He revealed that a designated local officer would work with the council and other partners to shape and deliver local services.
SBC leader David Parker, who believes the restructuring will take three years to complete, confirmed this week that the meeting with Mr MacAskill was being set up at a date to be confirmed.
But in a briefing note after Mr MacAskill’s announcement, G Division (Borders) commander Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair told councillors: “I would like to reassure you of our commitment to delivering the best service we can, as we work through the restructuring.
“While we do not yet know timescales or planned structures, I can assure you that, along with the command team for the Scottish Borders, I will remain focused on encouraging all staff to carry on providing the best possible service to our communities.
“The national restructuring will focus on command structures and back-office support functions and local service delivery will continue with as little disruption as possible. I believe the commitment of our officers who live and work in our communities will place us in a strong position.”
A man who is certain to play a crucial role in ensuring the transition goes smoothly at a local level is Superintendent Andrew Allan, who last week took over the role of deputy divisional commander, based at Hawick.
“It’s a challenge I relish and I will certainly be batting for the Borders to ensure the success we have had in reducing crime and making people feel safe is not only maintained but enhanced in the years ahead,” said Edinburgh-born Mr Allan, 45.
Married with a teenage daughter, he joined Lothian and Borders Police in 1991 after attaining a university degree while working with a firearms company. An accomplished marksman, he shot regularly at county level and was in the British international squad.
His first postings as a beat bobby was in the diverse communities of Craigmillar, a high crime rate area, and Portobello, and his first promotion saw him serve as a sergeant in Broxburn, West Lothian.
As an inspector based at St Leonards in Edinburgh, he worked on the planning team for Edinburgh’s Millennium Hogmanay celebrations, later spending time with the fraud investigation unit, involved in the confiscation of criminally obtained assets.
He also saw another side of policing when he was seconded to work with Audit Scotland as the spending watchdog sought to assess the full cost to the public purse of youth crime.
In 2003, he began a two-year stint as a chief inspector in the Borders, under former divisional commander Charlie Common.
And after latterly serving in Midlothian, he is delighted to be back in the region.
“It’s less about the promotion to superintendent and much more about coming back to the Borders, which is a posting I actually sought,” he said this week.
“The two years I spent here were, without doubt, the most satisfying period of my police career, working with officers who were themselves part of the community and getting the sense that we were all making a real difference to people’s lives.
“The fact that crimes in the Borders have fallen by almost 20 per cent in the past three years says much about that engagement with the public and our excellent relationship with our partners in the council and health service who share the same boundaries as the division.
“That, in itself, is worth preserving and the partnership working it has produced, in areas like child protection and crucial early intervention, is a real boon. Of course, we already have ready access to specialist support services from within the force and even further afield when we need them and this will continue.
“I know that, despite the structural changes and the natural uncertainty which our officers and staff are experiencing as public spending cuts bite, there is a real determination to go the extra mile to make a success of the new set-up.”