Justice Secretary Michael Matheson urged to pause Transport Police merger

BTP is due to be merged with Police Scotland. Photograph: John Devlin
BTP is due to be merged with Police Scotland. Photograph: John Devlin
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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is facing calls to pause the controversial integration of British Transport Police with Police Scotland after officers’ representatives claimed the April 2019 merger deadline is unrealistic.

The Scottish Conservatives said Police Scotland is not ready to take on more responsibilities at the end of a week which saw the single force embroiled in yet more controversy.

Police Scotland is scheduled to take over responsibility for British Transport Police’s operations in April next year.

But claims that the deadline is at risk have been made by Nigel Goodband, pictured above, the chair of the BTP Federation which represents rank-and-file officers. He has claimed the complicated nature of the task means that the integration timetable is likely to slip.

In a blog for the BTPF, Goodband said the issue had been raised at a meeting of Scotland’s police watchdog – the Scottish Police Authority – last month.

He wrote: “The size and complexity of the task was finally recognised, and it was suggested that achieving full integration by April 2019 was unrealistic. There was a lot of discussion about project plans, cost and bringing together a combined risk register. The cost to achieve integration, at present, has been valued at £10,000 per person (i.e. officers and staff) and the question was posed as to whether the Scottish Government has approved this cost. There was a clear message that Police Scotland can deliver on the operational aspect of policing the railways, but full integration is unlikely by that date.”

Critics of the Scottish Government’s integration plans believe they are politically motivated, will compromise safety on trains and put jobs at risk.

They also question whether Scotland’s beleaguered police force is fully capable of taking on the extra responsibility. Last week Matheson criticised the SPA for attempting to reinstate chief constable Phil Gormley, who is on special leave pending a bullying investigation. Matheson turned on the SPA after he was criticised for intervening by asking the watchdog to reconsider its decision.

Liam Kerr, Tory justice spokesman, said: “The SNP’s bid for Police Scotland to swallow up the BTP is nothing but a political stunt.

“It’s unpopular with staff, passengers, train operating companies and the unions, and many are clear it will jeopardise safety on Scotland’s trains. If the SNP won’t scrap the plan altogether, it should at least press pause. Police Scotland is in a mess at the moment.

“With all the challenges facing the Justice Secretary, the SPA and the leadership of Police Scotland, the last thing it needs is an unnecessary, unwanted and unplanned merger.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The proposed date for integration is April 2019 and that will be kept under review.”