A police car in such a poor state of repair that it could be illegal seems almost like an icon of the state of our public services.
Missed NHS waiting time targets, difficulties getting a GP appointment, teacher shortages and low morale, and problems with a myriad of council services – from bin collections to social care – have become a fact of life for too many Scots.
If a ramshackle police car catches fire – as one vehicle did in recent weeks – then how will the officer inside be able to come to our aid in time of need? If a car’s dodgy gearstick requires the driver to keep their hand on it at all times, it’s probably unlikely that any pursuit of a criminal will be successful.
New figures published under freedom of information law showed that 349 police cars broke down last year – up by 100 on the figure for 2017.
Quite rightly, Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, did not hold back in his criticism of the Scottish Government. “No wonder criminals fancy their chances in Sturgeon’s Scotland when the police are driving clapped-out bangers,” he said.
And Calum Steele, of the Scottish Police Federation, was equally forthright, saying the Government and the Scottish Police Authority should be embarrassed about the state of much of the police vehicle fleet, which he said was “nothing short of a disgrace”.
But it was the UK road safety charity IAM RoadSmart which pointed out perhaps the most depressingly ironic aspect of the parlous state of police vehicles – some of them may be so dangerous and unroadworthy that they are actually illegal.
Just think of what that must do to the morale of police officers. Not only are they forced to use such vehicles – or kick up a fuss and ignore calls on their services – but they know they are ignoring their own illegality. Rather than enforcing the law, they are breaking it.
It’s hard to know who is truly to blame for this lamentable situation. The Scottish Government said the Scottish Police Authority would have a budget of more than £1.2 billion in 2019/2020 after an increase of £42.3 million and that the “allocation of resources” was for the Chief Constable and SPA to work out.
But, surely, between them they should be able to sort this situation out and give police officers – whose job is difficult enough – vehicles that are fit for purpose.