Chief constable accuses Kenny MacAskill of sidelining him over force mergers
THE Chief Constable of Scotland's biggest police beat believes his area is being excluded from the debate on restructuring police forces.
A shake-up of the existing eight-force structure appears to be gathering pace, with the service facing cuts of up to 25 per cent over the next four years.
Earlier this month the Scottish Policing Board, chaired by the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, decided to investigate plans which could see the number of forces reduced to one or three.
But Ian Latimer, chief constable of Northern Constabulary, said the present discussions appear to be driven by a centralist agenda.
He said: "I have concerns about the way the debate has progressed so far.
"I genuinely believe from a professional perspective there has been a lack of engagement with people like me. From discussions I've had with chief executives and others, there appears to be an agenda developing with a distinct lack of consultation as to what the view may be, not just from of us, but more importantly from the communities in the Highlands and Islands. I don't think that is particularly helpful."
Mr Latimer, who retires next year, says he is not opposed to restructuring, but wants to retain a strong Highland voice in policing rural and island areas.
He criticised an idea suggested earlier this month that rural areas could be served by part-time "retained"' police officers. "That to me is plainly a nonsense," he said. "That points up to me a lack of understanding - or a lack of willingness to understand - some of the real challenges that rural communities have and how we support them."
Mr Latimer said he was willing to discuss a plan, recently put forward by the political leadership of Highland Council, to set up a single emergency service for the Highlands and Islands, possibly with Argyll and Bute and Moray, to counter moves to centralise services. He has also not ruled out the possibility of a merger with Grampian Police, but only if Northern is not made a "junior partner".
Dr Michael Foxley, the leader of Highland Council, said: "There is a clearly emerging and very strong view from the Highlands and Islands that we wish to see services retained in the area.
"History has shown us over the decades that we were always ignored by centralised organisations."
POLICE chiefs have become increasingly vocal in the ongoing debate on the future of Scotland's police forces.
Strathclyde Chief Constable Steve House, below, has backed cutting costs by merging Scotland's eight forces into one.
Graeme Pearson, a former head of the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, has revealed proposals to create a single "super agency" based in Stirling or Lanarkshire. But Martin Greig, police board convener in Grampian, said a "one size fits all" approach to policing was a bad idea.
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