Region retains its leading role

WITH legislation allowing the go-ahead for single police and fire services expected to be passed at Holyrood yesterday (Wednesday), the Borders’ role as a pilot for the reforms continues with the appointment of a pathfinder board.

Councillors agreed at Peebles High School last week to Mid-Berwickshire member Donald Moffat, current vice-convener of the soon-to-be defunct Lothian and Borders Police Board, taking over as chair of the group.

Mr Moffat’s fellow board member Bill Herd (Galashiels), as well as Rory Stewart (Jedburgh), Alec Nichol (Kelso) and Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels) were also appointed from the council’s ruling administration, who also agreed that Conservative pair George Turnbull (Hawick and Hermitage) and Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East) should be added.

A further five representatives – expected to come from NHS Borders, Scottish Borders Housing Network, Lothian and Borders Community Justice Authority and the voluntary and business sectors – will be co-opted onto the pathfinder board.

The Scottish Government says the new single police and fire structures, to be rolled out across the country in April 2013, will see the board hold regular meetings with the local area policing commander and senior fire officer, and will therefore improve local accountability.

But not according to Borders Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume, who said the Police and Fire Reform Bill is “the most destructive change to the face of Scottish policing in a generation”.

But local area police commander Andrew Allan disagrees.

He told TheSouthern: “I do believe that being a pathfinder area will help us to continue to deliver a good quality of service locally, focusing on local priorities.

“Being the first such area to have the plan developed and presented to the council has enabled us to influence how such plans will be prepared and to build it around the existing priorities.

“The Borders has shown in the past, with developments such as a co-located Public Protection Unit, the use of local integration officers and a positive response to antisocial behaviour, that local service providers and the voluntary sector work well together.

“The pathfinder role helps us to build on this and influence the way forward, with the intention of continuing to improve our service.”

Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker and Scottish Government justice secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the year-long pathfinder project in January. But it immediately raised fears from former depute divisional commander Andrew Farquhar that politics would interfere with policing.

Mr Allan responded this week: “Councillors and the communities they represent clearly have a role in informing local priorities and in considering police performance in priority and other areas of our work.

“However, there will still be matters and decisions that are rightly within the domain of police operations and command.

“By establishing a local forum of elected members and community planning partners, there will be a broader range of local involvement in scrutiny.”

New panel member, Councillor Logan added: “I am delighted that the new administration relented and gave me a place on the pathfinder panel.I was part of the SBC delegation which made the representations to the Scottish Government which secured the project as well as being on the police board for five years.

“However, it is a disappointment that I was not re-appointed by the new administration to the Lothian and Borders Police Board in its final year after being nominated by my group.”