Union attacks ‘ludicrous’ police merger plans

British Transport Police at Edinburgh Waverley Station.
British Transport Police at Edinburgh Waverley Station.
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A union has put fresh pressure on the Scottish Government to drop plans to merge British Transport Police (BTP) in Scotland with the national force in the wake of a series of terror attacks.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has launched an online petition urging ministers to ditch the Railway Policing Bill.

The legislation will hand power over railway policing to Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) watchdog after the 2016 Scotland Act extended new powers to the Scottish Parliament. It passed its first hurdle at Holyrood last month, despite calls from Labour and the Tories for it to be reconsidered.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said that after the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, “people want and need to be better, not worse, protected”.He said: “The SNP have been put on notice that they have no mandate to drive through devolution for devolution’s sake.

“Rail safety is not a political principle. It is a public necessity and the SNP would do well to heed the lack of mood in Scotland for their nationalist interest being placed over the national interest.

“The national interest demands we retain a single trans-UK British Transport Police as a highly skilled, railway dedicated, cross-border, national force.

“BTP carry out specialist counter-terrorism policing through Operation Alert, which has been established for years and railway staff and BTP have a long standing mutual, daily - sometimes hourly - contact system that results in a high level of co-operation and staffing which the break-up and merger into Police Scotland will abolish.

“It’s a ludicrous way to make policing better or security on railways better. BTP is not broken but unless this Bill is killed, it will be.”

Holyrood’s Justice Committee has given majority backing to the Bill despite one Labour and three Tory MSPs withholding their support.

The RMT, the union representing transport workers, has also warned the move will put rail passengers and workers at an increased safety risk, and it told the committee it has not ruled out taking industrial action over the proposals.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “Integration of the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland will ensure that railway policing in Scotland is accountable, through the chief constable and the SPA, to the people of Scotland. Maintaining and improving safety and security is our main priority and Police Scotland will maintain a dedicated railway policing unit protected within the broader structure of the force.”