Leaders: Corners cannot be cut on life-and-death services

ANOTHER investigation into the time Police Scotland took to respond has placed the focus back on its call centre

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin

News of yet another investigation about the length of time that Police Scotland took to respond to a call is very worrying. In the latest in a series of disturbing cases, it took officers several hours to respond to concerns over the welfare of a 73-year-old man at his home in Edinburgh. Now the force finds itself having to deal with another probe from the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

While this latest case clearly cannot be judged it until it has been looked into, the fact that the police force itself has deemed it merits investigation means alarm bells are ringing once again.

All the recent cases have been linked to the Bilston Glen control room in Midlothian which has been at the centre of mounting controversy since last summer when a call about a crash on the M9 was not properly logged and it took the force three days to respond. Father-of-three John Yuill is thought to have died at the scene, while mother-of-two Lamara Bell later died in hospital.

The latest case has emerged only a month after it was revealed the force was being investigated over the death of 36-year-old Andrew Bow, whose body was said to have been discovered at his flat in Edinburgh seven days after the alarm was raised to the police.

Fortunately, the latest case – which has been referred to Pirc by Police Scotland chief constable Phil Gormley – does not involve a fatality. But a disturbing pattern is emerging and who knows what the next delay in attending an incident might bring?

Pressure on call centres has been blamed for the force’s response time problems, but this concern was raised some time ago now, and does not appear to have been sorted out.

It should not be a hard fix. If the problem is a lack of resources, then these resources should be allocated. It is simply not an area where corners can be cut. Police Scotland has obviously had to cut its budget, but there are life-and-death areas where cuts that damage the service simply make no sense.

The SNP may be on a firm course to win re-election next week, but its record in government these past five years has not been hugely impressive.

There are serious issues in the education sector, and the setting up and operation of Police Scotland has also presented significant problems over the past few years, not least controversies over armed police on routine patrols, the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh and the use of stop-and-search powers.

Closing the attainment gap in education is not going to be easy and requires what will be a complex solution to raise standards among those from less privileged backgrounds.

But properly manning a police call centre is a basic fix and is well within the power of the Scottish Government to sort out. After all, did Nicola Sturgeon not describe the M9 crash as the lowest point of her time as First Minister?

Fielding emergency calls promptly and making an appropriate response to those in vulnerable situations should be a basic provision of any modern society. This surely cannot be beyond our means.

Labour’s going from bad to worse

Another day, another kicking for Jeremy Corbyn and his beleagured Labour Party.

The anti-semitism crisis has been escalating ever since Tuesday, when Bradford MP Naz Shah stepped down as parliamentary private secretary to shadow chancellor John McDonell. Here we are at the weekend and the party is still in total disarray.

In the wake of the suspension of former London mayor Ken Livingstone, Mr Corbyn admitted there were “grave concerns” about the language he had used to defend Ms Shah but confidently insisted: “There is no crisis.”

Surely it is abundantly clear to him now that he has a major problem on his hands. The news that a planned visit by Mr Corbyn to Wales in the run-up to the National Assembly election was cancelled at the 11th hour yesterday further demonstrated the sense of chaos. First Minister Carwyn Jones insisted Mr Corbyn had not been banned, but admitted the visit was “not possible” after Mr Livingstone’s suspension.

To have a leader seen as a handicap in what should be a Labour heartland really is a car crash scenario.

Deputy leader Tom Watson insists they will “get a grip” on anti-Semitism within the party. But when? And why has the party reached a stage where anti-semitism is a problem?

This should have been addressed long before it blew up in their faces. Yesterday, Mr Corbyn had to act decisively, show his worth as a leader, and take personal control of a situation that has caused undoubted electoral damage. He must have known, after Thursday’s events, that yesterday was the day to “save” his party. Not wanted in Wales? This could get very messy indeed next week.