A NEW national police force is to be created in Scotland after it was voted through the Scottish Parliament, prompting claims that the move will place too much power in the hands of politicians.
The current set-up of eight regional forces will be merged into a single body, after the overhaul was passed by MSPs last night. The country’s eight fire services are also being amalgamated.
The move has been designed to create estimated “efficiency savings” of £1.7 billion over 15 years. But opposition parties fear it could hand the SNP government too much power to get rid of the new head of the force if there is a clash.
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said yesterday: “This is more than a single police force, this is a national police force.
“This is a police force whose power, control, influence, direction and budget will be allocated at a national level. We can see elsewhere in the world where national organisations of law enforcement have the opportunity to play free and wild with the power that’s at their disposal.”
Opposition attempts to establish a watchdog commission of MSPs to oversee the governance of the new force – aimed at ensuring democratic accountability – were among a series of changes to the legislation voted down by the SNP majority at Holyrood yesterday.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said the government had refused to listen to “reasoned concerns.” She added: “It’s an ominous sign for the future that Scotland’s police force will be at the beck and call of the government.”
The government insists the responsibilities of the new chief constable, who is yet to be appointed, will be clear, with “continued separation” from ministers.
Both the new national police and fire service will come into force next April. The bill last night was eventually backed by Labour, although the Tories abstained while the Lib Dems and Greens voted against it.
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, warned against any cut in police numbers.
“Police numbers in England and Wales are expected to fall by nearly 16,000, morale is rock bottom, privatisation looms large and crime is beginning to rise,” he said.
“We recognise overall public expenditure is reducing but we don’t believe the public in Scotland would accept that type of treatment of its police force.”
But justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Let me be absolutely clear – single services are the best way to protect frontline policing and fire and rescue.”
The new bill has also sparked a row with Westmninster after the Treasury confirmed that the new police force will be liable for a £22 million VAT bill.
Mr MacAskill urged Unionist parties, who this week joined together in the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, to explain why Scotland will be alone in having to pay the levy for policing.