CONTROVERSIAL plans to close a third of Scotland’s police stations to the public could sound the death knell for our ailing high streets, business leaders have warned.
The proposals, along with widespread court closures, risk undermining the fragile economic recovery and may cost jobs, it has been claimed. Opposition parties are demanding a full public inquiry into the closures, amid claims the SNP government is doing nothing to revitalise the “cornerstones” of local communities.
Police Scotland may end full-time staffing and close public counters at 70 of Scotland’s 214 police stations to save cash.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has written to planning minister Derek Mackay, warning of the impact of the closures.
FSB Scotland policy chief Andy Willox said: “As Scottish public bodies look to make savings, it seems time and time again that they’re choosing to consolidate their estates, reducing headcounts in non-central locations and narrowing the number of public services in our towns.
“Not only will this mean that there is one fewer service for people to use on the high streets affected, it could put real strain on the relationship between local traders and police.”
He added that Police Scotland’s claim that services could be located in supermarkets would “irritate” small traders.
“Too often, public bodies seem to be making decisions about the deployment of local services in isolation and without consideration of the cumulative impact many of these choices could have on local communities so important to the people of Scotland,” he said.
The latest proposal comes just months after separate plans to close ten sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts were pushed through at Holyrood, a move that provoked concern over the economic impact.
Retailers such as Woolworths, Comet and JJB Sports have gone to the wall as the UK has dipped in and out of recession. Instead, there has been a growth of pawnbrokers, payday loan stores and discount shops.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “The FSB is right to raise its members’ concerns about the SNP’s direction of travel.
“Our high streets should be the beating heart of our communities, but the SNP is doing little to revitalise them by closing courts and police stations. These are the cornerstones of our communities, which is why there must be a full public inquiry into the closures.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson urged the Scottish Government to stop “washing its hands” of the issue.
“The reviving of town centres in Scotland has to be a priority, not just to help the economy, but to make people feel good about the place they live and work,” she said.
“Instead, the SNP is making life hard for businesses with a range of negative measures, and the removing of police presence from so many centres will make things even worse.
“This is an ill-conceived plan, which will break the valuable link between communities and the police.”
Ex-policeman and Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, a former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: “These are nothing more than a cost-cutting measure and it is becoming increasingly clear that they haven’t been fully thought out.
“Local businesses are right to raise their concerns about how these closures would impact on high streets across the country and it is vital that Police Scotland and the Scottish Government listen. There needs to be a rethink and it needs to happen fast.”
Assistant chief constable Wayne Mawson said: “My review of the public-counter provision is definitely not about closing entire police station buildings. My review is about rationalising the front-counter provision and making front-counter opening hours consistent across the country, and it’s absolutely geared toward meeting local demand.
“It’s also about keeping as many police officers as possible out on the street where they belong, keeping people safe.”
A consultation on the proposals was announced on Tuesday and will run for four weeks.
Police stations where public counters have been earmarked for closure include South Queensferry, Anderston, Garscadden and Craigie Street in Glasgow, Bucksburn in Aberdeen, Aboyne in Aberdeenshire, Girvan in Ayrshire, Bannockburn in Stirling, and Kirkcudbright.