IF ANYONE was surprised at yesterday’s announcement that the creation of a single Scottish police force could cost up to 3,200 civilian jobs, then they have misunderstood the nature of this reform.
There are some good operational reasons for a single force, and many hope it will lead to more effective policing in some fields. But the primary rationale, in the current economic climate, was to save money.
Stephen House, the highly regarded Strathclyde police chief who will head up the new force, was candid about this yesterday. Mr House is a direct and straight-talking public servant, and we wish him well. It was admirable that he did not avoid the subject of cuts and even the possible scale.
Expected they may well have been, but that does not mean the cuts do not raise important issues that Mr House now has to address with the same candour. Are all of these jobs losses simply as a result of duplication of administrative rolls across Scotland’s eight forces? Or do these losses cut deeper into the mainstream administrative functions of police work?
There is a quite understandable concern that when civilian jobs in operational support roles go, that work has to be picked up by uniformed officers. One of the questions Mr House has to answer is how he intends to protect front-line policing in the move towards a single force with fewer staff. Are there technological innovations that can prevent uniformed officers becoming pen-pushers? Or different patterns of working that increase efficiency? Savings are a good thing, as long as the implications can be identified.
On this and many other issues, a key part of Mr House’s new role will be to explain and reassure. Because in the move to a single force there will plenty of people in need of reassurance.
Law and order has moved down the list of the public’s priorities in recent years which is a sign of success. Figures show that with the exception of a few categories of offending there is less crime, and – just as significantly – less fear of crime. This has been a major achievement for the Scottish Government and Scottish policing. It has been hard-won, and it must not be jeopardised by the administrative convulsion that will inevitably accompany such a large-scale and radical reform.
People will need to be reassured too that a far more centralised policing structure does not mean that local knowledge about local problems is somehow jeopardised. The public still wants to know that the local neighbourhood officer on the beat or in a patrol car will still feel like their local law enforcement, and not the faceless representative of a national organisation. Part of that process of reassurance will have to be in new systems of local accountability that will replace the current structures. Scottish policing has come too far, in a relatively short period of time, to allow this momentous change to jeopardise the advances made.
Clegg fails to convince own party
NICK Clegg’s speech at the Liberal Democrat conference yesterday was the culmination of a carefully planned charm offensive that began last week with his well-publicised apology for breaking his promise on tuition fees. This campaign was intended to convince Lib Dem voters not to abandon the high hopes with which they returned MPs to Westminster at the last general election and made it possible for the party to make it into government.
In the end, the voters have been the least of Mr Clegg’s worries. He has been too busy trying to persuade sceptical members of his own party that he is the right man to be their leader, never mind the wider public. In his speech, Mr Clegg tried to position himself once again as the honest broker of British politics – that nice man who stood between Gordon Brown and David Cameron in the televised debates and seemed to talk a lot of
common sense. The Tories, he said, could not be trusted to deliver on fairness; and Labour could not be trusted to deliver on the economy.
Lib Dem strategists might consider whether it was wise for Mr Clegg to play the trust card. Lib Dem voters trusted him on tuition fees. Mr Clegg is at his most convincing when he argues that his party provided the stability Britain needed at the height of the economic crisis in 2010, after a general election that failed to produce a clear winner. But it is hard to escape the conclusion he will pay a heavy political price for his time as Deputy Prime Minister in this coalition government. Hard too, to see any protracted future for him as leader of a party that was always in two minds whether it wanted power in the first place.