Scots police ‘must look at selling off stations’

POLICE must look at closing and selling off stations and other buildings to meet savings targets, a senior officer has warned.

House admitted to MSPs that the force had received just 126 responses. Picture: Robert Perry
House admitted to MSPs that the force had received just 126 responses. Picture: Robert Perry

Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said the current changes to police counters will not go far enough.

He believes a full review of the police’s estate is imminent and necessary, if it is to meet savings targets of £139 million over the next two financial years.

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Mr O’Connor, who will be giving evidence alongside Chief Constable Sir Stephen House at Holyrood’s justice committee today, said: “We need to have a look at the footprint of buildings, and that has to flow from looking at counters. It has to be looked at from a finance, costs and access to service perspective.

“If very few people are using a service you have to look at it. That’s a matter for the chief constable.”

He added: “You can’t make the level of savings that need to be made without looking at everything across the board. Nothing ruled in, nothing ruled out.

“In addition to the revenue savings that could be made, there is also the potential to sell off the buildings. That money should then be ring fenced and reinvested in policing.”

No concrete plans have been made public about closures and building sales, but a paper presented to the Scottish Police Authority by Assistant Chief Constable Derek Penman shows it is firmly in the force’s thinking.

Police Scotland has 778 properties, including about 108 offices, although some are leased.

In his report, Mr Penman said Police Scotland would “maximise assets by making best use of financial resources”.

He added: “Given the inflexibility of the revenue budget, it will be difficult to make savings without embarking on a rationalisation programme of the estate and service contracts.”

Police Scotland is consulting on closing 70 of its 214 public-facing counters.

That has already proved controversial, and station closures could be even more so.

Graeme Pearson MSP, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “Increasingly, our police are going to become isolated from the communities in which they serve as police stations are closed to the public and then sold off.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP added: “It can’t just always be down to making savings, you have to deliver a good service to people as well.”

And Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “The SNP need to heed these fresh warnings and act now to protect local policing.”

About £1.7m has already been made from the sale of buildings, mostly police houses.

A Scottish Police Authority spokesman said: “With close to 800 buildings across the country … policing will be looking to rationalise elements of its estate.”

A Police Scotland spokesman added: “We are looking at every aspect of police operations in order that we can meet savings targets. The police estate will form part of this overall review.”