Cost of controversial railway policing plan could be '˜significant'

The national force will assume railway policing duties from 2019
The national force will assume railway policing duties from 2019

Police bosses have awarded an initial £400,000 contract for work overseeing the merger with British Transport Police amid warnings final costs will be “significant”.

Police Scotland has tasked Ernst & Young with helping deliver the integration ahead of a move which will see the national force assume railway policing duties from 2019.

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Despite initial assurances that costs associated with the project would be “minor”, minutes of a closed Scottish Police Authority (SPA) meeting now makes it clear there are likely to be “significant financial implications” associated with the work.

MSPs voted to integrate BTP operations in Scotland into the national police force earlier this year despite concerns from the railway industry, staff associations and trade unions. The financial memorandum which accompanied the Bill said there would be “minor transitional costs” for the SPA and Police Scotland associated with changing police badges on uniforms / vehicles and from transferring HR data.

But according to the minutes of a closed SPA finance committee attended by representatives of the Scottish Government and Police Scotland, members were told the work is “complex and unprecedented with many significant financial implications”. The paper added: “It was further noted that the timelines to complete the work [are] very tight.”

Dr Kath Murray, a criminal justice researcher at Edinburgh University, said it was “extraordinary” that the costs associated with the project remain unknown.

She said: “The fact the costs of integration are still not known raises serious questions about the policy-making process. Ahead of the Railway Policing Act, Police Scotland cautioned that the costs associated with the Bill were not clear.

Nearly a year on, this is still the case, with due diligence now expected in early 2018. With less than eighteen months until integration, it seems extraordinary that the project remains uncosted.”

Tom McMahon, director of business integration at Police Scotland said: “As part of the early work of the mobilisation, transition and transformation programme, an assessment of costs associated with the integration of BTP functions into Police Scotland is ongoing. A progress update will be provided to the SPA in due course.”

Yesterday it emerged Police Scotland’s projected budget deficit for the current financial year has reduced by around £10 million to £36m due to “underspends” on police staff.