POLICE Scotland’s emergency centres could be deluged with thousands of extra calls under proposals for the British Transport Police to come under Holyrood’s jurisdiction.
The emergency system is already at the centre of a national investigation after police failed to attend the scene of a double fatal accident on the M9 for three days after it was phoned in.
It’s more evidence that this decision needs to be shelvedTory MSP Liz Smith
It has now emerged that SNP plans to merge the Scottish operations of the British Transport Police with Police Scotland would trigger around 2,000 extra emergency calls every year.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson revealed in a Parliamentary answer yesterday that around 5 per cent of the BTP’s annual 37,000 emergency calls came from Scotland.
If the SNP plans to take control of the BTP go ahead, that would mean those calls would have to be dealt with by Police Scotland.
Scottish Conservative Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith said: “Given the problems Police Scotland has faced in recent months, this is not the time for it to be taking on the extra work of the BTP too.
“This analysis by the Scottish Government shows that merger would result in thousands of extra emergency calls coming to police. But as it stands, there are doubts as to whether the single force can even cope with the current number of emergency and non-emergency calls it receives, let alone having to consider the rail network too.
“It’s more evidence that this decision needs to be shelved for now. The work of the BTP is respected right across the country – it would be wrong to take it away and place it in the hands of an organisation whose stock has never been lower.”
The single force has come under criticism in recent months for centralising call centres across Scotland, meaning handlers don’t have the local knowledge of their predecessors.
The problems culminated in the tragic incident of two people lying unattended for three days after crashing their car off the M9, despite police being contacted.
John Yuill was found dead inside the blue Renault Clio three days after the crash was first reported to police on Sunday 5 July. His girlfriend, Lamara Bell, was still alive but died in hospital days later from dehydration.
The call was taken by a senior officer, but the details were not then fed into the system. A major review has now been launched into police call handling by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), but recent Scottish Police Authority figures showed that Police Scotland’s Bilston Glen call centre, covering the crash area, had 15 staff – more than 10 per cent – absent from work on 11 June less than a month before the tragedy.
They also revealed that staff have worked more than 8,000 hours in overtime since the start of April in order to “mitigate” for staff shortages, with 52 vacancies across the east and west service centres.
Mr Matheson said yesterday the government will “engage with stakeholders and partners” to ensure railway policing in Scotland is subject to “appropriate oversight” by MSPs.
“We will ensure any transition is as smooth as possible, and the effective and efficient management of emergency calls will be a priority,” he said.