Paton-Day will lead fight to keep fire services local

12/01/11, TSPL, Scotsman, Police restructuringing debate, Scottish parliament. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill MSP, pictured during the debate tooday.   Pic Ian Rutherford
12/01/11, TSPL, Scotsman, Police restructuringing debate, Scottish parliament. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill MSP, pictured during the debate tooday. Pic Ian Rutherford

A BORDERS councillor will lead the opposition to plans for a single Scottish fire service.

John Paton-Day will voice his opposition at the next Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board meeting in Edinburgh next month, after the Scottish Government launched a public consultation into Scotland’s police and fire structure.

It is believed Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill favours a single fire service and is leaning towards a national police force, which he said would bring “significant” savings.

But Mr Paton-Day believes such a move would compromise the fire service received in the Borders.

The Liberal Democrat councillor for Leaderdale and Melrose said: “I think the regional fire services are efficient and it is important to have localism with our fire service.

“Part of the argument [for a single fire service] is cost but savings would be minimal. There is a risk involved with a national service and I do not think it can work. I do not support a single fire service, or a single police force.

“Already, when you ring the police, it is centralised in Edinburgh and very often you have to explain where you are.”

Mr Paton-Day added that the Borders need a different range of services than other regions of Scotland.

“A national procurement system to buy equipment could work but even that is a problem because there are different needs, with tall ladders needed in rural areas but not so much so in other areas,” he said.

“I already know there have been discussions with board members who do not support the single fire service and I expect that to be made official at the meeting.”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Purvis MSP believes a single police force would jeopardise police numbers in the Borders and said he would oppose it.

Mr Purvis added: “It is worrying democratically that one single force with one chief constable answering only to a single minister could be established. It is also extremely worrying that we would lose a local voice and local policing capacity in the Borders.

“There are more police on duty at a single Old Firm game in Glasgow than there are in total in the Borders so I simply cannot see how a centralised police quango, which in effect is what it would be, would listen to an area like the Borders. Policing capacity would be diverted from the Borders, without question.

“In nearly eight years of being an MSP I have never had a single constituent speak to me about their desire to abolish our local policing and replace this with a national single force.”

The Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale MSP continued: “The position of the Labour Party, the Conservatives [who both favour a national force] and what seems to be the SNP, is frankly worrying for the Borders if these plans go ahead. We saw with the attempted forced amalgamations of police forces in England by the Labour Government that they were going to be hugely expensive, unpopular and would reduce local accountability.”

However, the SNP’s Christine Grahame denied the claims of Mr Purvis and Mr Paton-Day.

The South of Scotland MSP said: “It is evident from information we have already received from senior police and fire officers that there is duplication and weaknesses in procurement processes related to the purchase of new equipment.

“If there is to be a Scottish police force and Scottish fire service, it is to make savings in administration and to improve local accountability and delivery.

“Scottish ministers have made it clear that any savings that may arise from this or other proposals to make our police and fire service more efficient will be put directly into improving frontline services in our local communities where they are needed.

“This consultation process is about listening to all the views that exist and ultimately delivering a better, more improved fire service and police force for the Scottish Borders and the rest of the country.”

Gavin Logan, who is one of two councillors to represent Scottish Borders Council on the Lothian and Borders Police Board, told us: “I am not here to defend historical police force structures if it means sacrificing more police officers who could fight crime on the streets.

“My principle concern is that there are as many police officers on the Borders streets as possible, providing a visible and effective deterrent against crime.

“We also need to look at how we enhance local accountability, ensuring that there is a closer link between the police and the communities they serve.”

Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont backed calls for a single police force alongside elected police commissioners from each region.