Tories call for Scottish rail policing merger to be scrapped

There are concerns about loss of expertise when it comes to policing railways. Photograph: John Devlin
There are concerns about loss of expertise when it comes to policing railways. Photograph: John Devlin
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Conservatives have called for the merger of Police Scotland and transport policing north of the border to be scrapped in the wake of “damning” new warnings from rank and file officers.

The merger involving British Transport Police (BTP) risks creating life-threatening safety issues and will cost up to an extra £500,000 per officer, a damning new document has said.

The integration into the national force was due to take place in April next year, although the controversial move was delayed indefinitely in February.

A paper drawn up by the British Transport Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file BTP officers, also says the Scottish Government’s merger plans will cause disruption and has damaged officer morale.

The paper, which has been submitted to the Holyrood justice committee, says the uncertainty created by the proposal is “outrageous” and there is “serious mistrust” in the process.

It warns of officers leaving, loss of expertise when it comes to policing the railways and says the cost of transferring BTP Scotland officers to Police Scotland will cost between £225,000 and £500,000 per individual.

The cost includes pension liabilities which are to be put into a segregated pot. As there are 230 BTP Scotland officers, the cost could run into millions.

The Scottish Conservatives have urged ministers to go back to the drawing board with the plans and ensure BTP is devolved “in a more practical and safer manner”.

Party justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “This evidence is damning and the SNP must start to listen.

“Its plan to merge British Transport Police with Police Scotland is going to cost public money, leave us with the worse service than we have now and potentially threaten public safety. Why would any responsible government continue with it?”

Mr Kerr added: “(Transport minister) Humza Yousaf has already had to press pause on their proposal. It is now time for them to scrap it altogether and back a plan that we can all support.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to the safe and seamless integration of BTP into Police Scotland, which Parliament voted for when it passed the Railway Policing Act.

“This will deliver continuity of service for rail users and staff and a single command structure, with seamless access to wider support facilities and specialist resources.

“We have confirmed that our triple-lock guarantee will protect jobs, pay and pensions for BTP officers transferring to Police Scotland.

“We meet regularly with all partners in the integration and will continue to work closely with them on addressing issues that emerge.”

BTP Scotland officers are concerned that moving their pensions to a smaller pot will see their contributions increase over time.

The document warns that it will take time for Police Scotland to learn about the railway infrastructure and how to minimise delays. It says that delays create a “domino effect”, which if not managed efficiently can become dangerous and expensive to train operating companies (TOC) and passengers.

“Two forces dealing with the same incident could create confusion, delays and costs to TOCs and passengers alike,” it said.

Concerns were expressed about Police Scotland’s computer systems (ICT) saying it was “unclear” how its ICT system would link with BTP systems covering England and Wales. “This federation understands that existing ICT issues in Police Scotland pose a significant risk to the delivery of a safe railway policing model,” it said, adding that any disruption to the BTP communication chain “could be life- threatening”.

It was also unclear how responsibility for large numbers of football fans would be transferred when the Scottish/English border was crossed.

The document, compiled by the BTP federation chairman Nigel Goodband, says the Scottish Government should look at alternatives to the merger, saying failure to do so would be “somewhat reckless”.

Liam Kerr, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This evidence is damning, and the SNP must start to listen. Its plan to merge British Transport Police with Police Scotland  is going to cost public money, leave us with the worse service than we have now, and potentially threaten public safety. Why would any responsible government continue with it?

“As the British Transport Police Federation make clear, pressing ahead with this plan is ‘reckless’, given an alternative is on the table. The only conclusion to be reached is that the Nationalists are doing so because it fits their separatist agenda.”

A Police Scotland spokes­person said: “Planning for the integration of British Transport Police continues and we are working closely with BTP and other partners. The priority for Police Scotland, as always, is to ensure that we continue to deliver the highest possible standards of service and that all of our communities, including people who work on and use the rail network, are kept safe.”