Scottish police chiefs stand accused of turning their backs on rural communities such as the Borders after revealing plans to close station counters.
Police Scotland needs to find around £60million of cuts to its annual budget of £1.6billion and in a review proposes that stations in Selkirk, Lauder, Melrose, Eyemouth and Coldstream should be among more than 70 to close their front counter as they are not being used enough by members of the public.
While the region’s other seven stations would remain open with similar opening times, the planned closures of more than a third of Borders station counters have been met with anger in the region.
Jim Hume, Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, condemned Police Scotland’s decision as bad for policing in the Borders. “The proposed closure of five public counters in police stations across the Borders could have a real impact on long-established links between police and the local community,” said Mr Hume.
“Residents will consider the removal of public counter provision at these five stations a worrying development for the region, and frankly I seriously question how Police Scotland can justify the removal of these public counters using evidence collected in 2010.
“The police have now turned their backs on rural communities here in the Borders with these plans which I believe could further erode local policing.”
In a letter to local Conservative MSP John Lamont, Borders divisional police commander, Chief Superintendent Jeanette McDiarmid, stressed the recommendations were not about closing police stations.
Chief Superintendent Jeanette McDiarmid said the proposals were about moving resources to ensure maximising of the policing service in local communities through the effective deployment of police officers.
But Mr Lamont believes any such counter closures would severely hamper the justice system in the Borders.
“While I appreciate Police Scotland is attempting to save money, this is not the right way to go about it,” said Mr Lamont.
“This is a retrograde step that will do nothing to improve the public’s confidence in the safety on our streets, and I know many Borderers will be very concerned.”
In Selkirk, where a closure would mean residents having to travel to Galashiels to access a public police counter, local community council chairman Graham Easton was not sure how locals will react to the news.
“I think we’ll just have to live with it, unfortunately,” he told us. “The reassuring thing is that actual police officers will still be based in Selkirk.”
And Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson, who led the review, defended the proposals.
He said: “Our review will reduce opening hours at some public counters across Scotland, but this is where analysis of demand has provided evidence which has allowed us to take these steps without significantly impacting on the level of service enjoyed by communities.”
Police Scotland also wants to scrap its remaining traffic warden services, following a review of parking enforcement, including the last three such wardens in the Borders.