Leaders: No reason to derail transport police merger

Police Scotland failed to investigate a crash on the M9 until three days after it was first reported. Picture: Michael Gillen

Police Scotland failed to investigate a crash on the M9 until three days after it was first reported. Picture: Michael Gillen

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Objections to the merger of Police Scotland and the British Transport Police north of the Border appear to be based more on the current stock of Police Scotland than on the desirability of keeping two police forces separate through practical necessity.

Concerns have been raised over the volume of extra emergency calls that Police Scotland would have to handle if it took on the responsibilities of its transport police colleagues. This is a legitimate issue to highlight, following Police Scotland’s failure to investigate a crash on the M9 until three days after it was first reported. One of the car occupants was found alive, but later died.

In truth, however, the number of additional calls Police Scotland would have to take on if it assumed transport responsibilities is very small, at 2000 per year, which works out at an average of between five and six per day. The figure should be taken in the context of the 4.2 million emergency and non-emergency calls that Police Scotland handle annually.

The small number of calls for the British Transport Police should not be a big surprise. How many members of the public know what number to call to report a non-emergency incident on our railway? (It’s 0800 405040, incidentally.)

Although the force’s call centres are under pressure, taking on the transport police’s calls does not appear to be an insurmountable difficulty, particularly if the merger ensures that such areas remain properly resourced. A merger which assumed that Police Scotland could provide the British Transport Police’s service without taking on any of that force’s resources would be ill-advised.

The debate can go on over whether or not a single police force was desirable in Scotland, but now that it exists, there is a reduced requirement for a separate British Transport Police north of the border. Before Police Scotland, the justification was stronger, when a train could pass through two, three or more regional force jurisdictions on a single journey. For instance, a train travelling from Edinburgh to Inverness took in Lothian and Borders Police, Fife Constabulary, Tayside Police and Northern Constabulary. With a single body, that requirement for a separate transport force diminishes, other than for cross-border routes.

It is only just over a year since the British Transport Police restructured across the UK from seven areas into three, with Scotland described as “a unique division working under Scottish law and legislation”. In other words, the Scottish division is already in the right shape to fit into a merger with Police Scotland. There may be continued resistance to change, but the case for running two separate forces in parallel, for the benefit of only our railways, does not stand up any longer.

Bold move deserves all our support

In yesterday’s leader column, we called on supermarkets to acknowledge their part in the damage caused to farming by the falling price of a pint of milk and to take direct action, so it is only right that today we commend Morrisons for announcing that the premium from a new milk brand will go directly to the dairy industry.

Although the product will not be available until October, the decision is recognition that there is a problem and an acceptance that outlets have a responsibility to protect the viability of suppliers, with dairy farmers at risk of going out of business following a 25 per cent drop in the price of milk.

The responsibility for addressing this situation does not stop there. Morrisons’ new milk brand will be sold at 10p per litre above the price for standard milk which will still be available, and it will be up to the customer to voluntarily pay more for milk to help support British farmers. A survey suggests half of customers would be willing to do that. When it comes to the crunch, there will be a fall-off from that figure, but it is to be hoped the percentage uptake will be significant. It is hardly extortionate: an extra 10p per litre moves the price back to where it was before.

The onus is also on other supermarkets to follow suit and show the courage to adopt this bold and imaginative initiative. They should get on board, or introduce their own proposal to support the dairy industry. It is not enough to say that they believe they pay a fair price to their suppliers. Is the test of that fairness the need to see dairy farmers go out of business before taking action which would be, by that stage, too late?

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