Morale within the British Transport Police (BTP) is low as a result of “uncertainty” caused by the forthcoming merger with Police Scotland, a new report has revealed.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) called for issues over the impact the amalgamation would have on staff and officers’ terms and conditions to be resolved at the “earliest opportunity”.
The police inspector’s latest overview of the BTP also warned the “scope and scale of the challenges and complexity posed by the transfer should not be underestimated”.
Derek Penman, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: “It is not a merger of one complete organisation with another, but the partial extraction of a function from one organisation and its integration into another organisation.
“Throughout the transfer process, both BTP and Police Scotland must continue to deliver an effective service.”
Mr Penman added: “While both organisations provide a policing service, there are fundamental and significant differences in the way they operate.
“BTP is a police service paid for entirely by the rail industry and which has an ethos and commercial awareness which is quite distinct from other police forces.”
As a result, Mr Penman he said the merger due to come into force in April 2019 was “quite different” from the creation of Police Scotland in 2013. In that case, eight regional forces were brought together to form a national body.
Legislation to merge transport policing with the national force was approved by MSPs in June despite opposition from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats at Holyrood, and the RMT union, who fear the move will reduce safety on the railways.
The BTP, Police Scotland as well as watchdog bodies the Scottish Police Authority and the British Transport Police Authority will all have costs to pay as a result of the merger, along with the Scottish and UK governments, the report said.
The report said: “The full costs associated with the transfer of railway policing in Scotland have not yet been assessed and there is uncertainty among stakeholders as to who will pay these costs.”
There was also a “lack of detailed information” about the possible risks associated with the merger in policy documents that accompanied the legislation.
This is “problematic”, according to the report, as “without fully identifying the potential disbenefits, it is not possible to effectively plan to mitigate them”.
Meanwhile as the terms, conditions and pensions of BTP staff and officers are different from those in Police Scotland, there has been “much speculation” about how they will be affected when the two forces come together.
The report said: “As a result of the uncertainty about their future, officers described morale as being low.
“This was particularly true of BTP police staff who fear there is no place for them at Police Scotland given that a significant proportion of police staff have left the organisation since its creation in 2013.”
Mr Penman said: “The officers and staff have been living with uncertainty regarding their futures for some time but have nonetheless remained committed to providing an effective service throughout.
“Issues relating to their terms and conditions and pension arrangements must be resolved at the earliest opportunity so as to provide them with information on which to base decisions about their future.
“Until those issues are settled, regular updates must be provided as to the progress being made.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Considerable progress has been made in ensuring the benefits of integration and improved accountability of transport policing to the Scottish Parliament are successfully delivered.
“Integration will ensure seamless access to wider support facilities and specialist resources, providing an enhanced service to the rail industry and travelling public.
“Pay and pensions of BTP officers and staff will be protected and we have recently set out to Parliament how we are giving effect to this commitment.”