MORE than 70 police stations will close front desks to the public or significantly reduce opening hours under plans unveiled yesterday by Police Scotland.
The move, which comes as the police service seeks to find around £60 million of cuts to its annual budget of £1.06 billion, will mean members of the public can no longer walk into the affected police stations to report crimes. Instead, they will have to speak to call centre staff.
Last night, Police Scotland was accused of “turning its back on local communities” over the changes to front-desk provision. The force claims the move will result in more officers on the beat and insists its service to the public will not suffer. The number of people calling at front desks has fallen in recent years.
Last night, Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson of Police Scotland, who led a review of the police’s services and procedures, said: “The transition to Police Scotland gave us a chance to critically review all of our processes to ensure we make the best of our resources and provide best value for money to the public.
“The model we propose to move to will deliver a professional service based on our current needs and that of the public, as well as for the longer term.”
Earlier this year, the force’s chief constable, Sir Stephen House, said the cuts should not have an adverse impact on frontline policing.
Police stations across the country, including Craigie Street in Glasgow, Edinburgh’s Balerno and Aberdeen’s Bucksburn, along with Ullapool and
Benbecula in the Highlands and Islands, will see an end to front-counter services for the public. In all, 70 will lose full-time front-desk provision, with a further four moving to a shared service system with other stations.
The change will also see hundreds of hours lost in public- counter opening hours from the current set-up. Stations such as Kilbirnie and Largs in Ayrshire will go from an 8am-7pm, seven-day front-desk operation to 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Edinburgh’s West End station currently operates from 7am-midnight seven days a week, but would switch to 9am-5pm from Monday to Friday.
The announcement follows the Scottish Government’s decision to merge the country’s eight geographically based police forces into one national set-up in April. The creation of the single police force was intended to save £1.7bn, and Police Scotland say it has given them the opportunity to review and standardise services and procedures throughout Scotland.
However, until yesterday, there had been no indication such widespread closures would be undertaken.
ACC Mawson said: “We have seen the number of people calling at public counters drop in recent years. 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.”
He added: “This is an opportunity to deliver a more consistent, professional service, which will enable more officers to be deployed where and when they are needed most in communities.”
But the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the creation of the new single force, said front counters provided a vital link with local communities.
Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “The police have turned their backs on local communities. The proposed closure of these public counters in police stations could have a real impact on long-established links between police and the local community. People value being able to report issues directly with their local police station. Now it seems that people will have no option but to make a phone call to a remote call centre.”
Policing groups on local councils are being urged to work with the service to see if the plans will have an adverse impact on the ability to serve the public.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell added: “One of the main reasons behind moving to a single force was to create economies of scale. However, the Scottish Government at no point said one of the first things the single force would do is shut police stations all over the country.
“This is a worrying and retrograde step, and one which will do nothing to improve public confidence in the safety of our streets, or the justice system.”
Public counters are still seen as having a “core role” in delivering a service that cannot be done in any other way, according to police chiefs, such as the registration of sex offenders, examination of driving documents, receipt of found property and foreign nationals registering with the police.
But it is believed that reporting crimes or road traffic accidents does not have to be done at a police station, but can be done remotely, to a police officer, by phone or in some cases electronically.
Police chiefs also say there is currently no consistency on opening hours, functions undertaken by staff and the service provided at public counters, and the change could help bring this about.
A range of methods have also been developed for the public to contact the police in recent years, including the launch of the new 101 non-emergency phone line, introducing contact points which connect callers at police stations direct, and enhancing local policing throughout the country.
Staff affected by the cuts will be consulted on their options which include alternative roles in the force, ACC Mawson said.