Police Scotland: Fears over local accountability

Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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FEARS have been raised that policing has become less locally accountable, as a new national force dawns in Scotland.

Martin Greig, a former Grampian convener, said councillors no longer questioning the chief constable was a democratic loss.

Police Scotland came into effect at midnight, with the eight regional forces consigned to history.

The Scottish Government, Chief Constable Stephen House and the Scottish Police Authority have insisted it will boost local accountability.

There will be 14 divisions, each with their own commander, and all 32 local authorities will have a senior officer of at least chief inspector rank, who will respond to their concerns.

Meanwhile, every council ward in Scotland will have their own, locally-decided policing plan.

But Mr Greig said: “Councils do not have any means of raising the concerns of local people with the chief constable. He will be accountable to parliament, but not to local authorities if, say, custody cells are under-staffed or policing teams are cut back.”

However, Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “Local policing and greater local engagement is at the heart of Police Scotland.

“Day-to-day relationships between local representatives and the police have primarily been through divisional commanders and this will not change.

“The views of local communities and local authorities are reflected in the dedicated local policing plans which cover every part of the country.

“The policing priorities have been set by these groups and we will be held accountable for our performance in delivering them.

“Our key focus is keeping people safe.

“By listening to local communities and working with our local partners, our local policing will help deliver this.”

Mr House and the police authority have been given the daunting target of saving £1.3 billion over 15 years. They hope to do this by stripping out duplication, which will see an estimated 1,400 jobs go.

At the same time, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has insisted the government’s pledge of an extra 1,000 officers on the beat – there are at present 17,436 – must be kept.

This has infuriated union leaders, who believe better-paid police staff are now carrying out civilian roles as a result.

Dave Watson, Unison’s Scottish organiser, said: “On one hand he is saying I’m insisting on setting this number of police officers, then on the other he says it is up to chief constable to decide a balanced workforce. That’s dishonest.”

He said police staff were very concerned about their jobs and were seeing better-paid officers filling in for them. “It happens every day in so many ways – administrative jobs, custody suites, it’s happening all the time,” he added.

Police Scotland has always said that the regional IT systems would not all be synchronised by day one.

However, one former senior officer said this should now be a priority for the national force. Graeme Pearson, a Labour MSP who was formerly director general of the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, said in the short term the public should notice very little difference, but the longer term must see a “change in culture”.

It is hoped the new force will offer greater support for human rights.

John Scott QC, a human rights lawyer, said he had become less critical of the change.

“One of the things that has drawn me on to the fence is the new oath makes a specific reference to human rights.

“That’s a huge thing and there’s an opportunity to see human rights as a much stronger part of policing.”