Lib-Dems and Tories go to war over police plans

A BORDERS MSP has labelled opposition to a centralised police force as “crazy”, after a petition was launched in the region against the plans, writes Kenny Paterson.

Euan Robson, Liberal Democrat candidate for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, is collecting signatures midway through a Scottish Government consultation into the future of the country’s eight constabularies.

But John Lamont, who will go up against Mr Robson for the new seat on May 5, has lambasted the Lib-Dems’ stance.

The Conservative MSP says he had previously voted for 1,000 extra police officers for Scotland.

But Mr Lamont, who is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, claimed: “The Lib-Dems failed to support these extra police officers and now they are trying to defend the salary of the chief constable and his men in suits in Edinburgh rather than the police in uniform in the Borders. If we do not reform, and if we blindly defend historical structures with their unnecessary duplications and costs, we will be depriving our local communities of the frontline policing that they need and expect.

“This is the only way we will protect local policing in the Borders. The crazy Lib-Dem plan will cost us frontline police officers.”

However, Mr Robson said a single force – one of the options in the consultation – must be fought.

Mr Robson said: “I have no doubt that if these plans go ahead then the big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow will start to sap resources from our own police force here in the Borders.

“It could jeopardise our local police headquarters in Hawick, threatening our local police provision.”

Mr Robson added that police faced different challenges in Scotland’s major cities than they do in the Borders.

He said: “Our police force must remain local and responsive to local needs.”

MSP Jeremy Purvis echoed his Lib-Dem colleague’s views in a Scottish Parliament debate, having also been concerned with a possible single Scottish social work quango.

“With a single police force in Scotland and a single social work quango, local decision making would be removed,” said the Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale MSP.

“We will have to campaign very hard to retain our local services, delivered by local bodies and answerable to the Borders, not the central civil service in government.”

Meanwhile, councillor John Paton-Day has criticised the failure of the Scottish Government to send a minister to a briefing on the future of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue service.

Invited to the meeting in Edinburgh as a member of the fire and rescue board for Lothian and the Borders, Mr Paton-Day remains unconvinced over the SNP Government’s preferred option for a single fire service for Scotland.

“This whole plan is solely about cost-cutting and more central control,” he said. “There is no evidence to back up the claims of financial savings. Indeed, where this kind of re-structuring has taken place in other parts of Britain, it has cost huge amounts and has produced little, if any, evidence of any financial savings.”

A consultation into Scotland’s fire service is also ongoing, but it has revealed that 739 full-time and 305 retained firefighters in the Lothians and Borders tackled 2,814 fires during 2009/2010. In that time, seven members of the public lost their lives as a result of these fires, with 330 injuries recorded.