'˜Major gaps' in controversial rail police plans, warns report

An independent study of controversial plans to integrate railway policing into Police Scotland has highlighted a shortage of detail and a 'concerning' lack of consensus for the move.

Railway police will be integrated into Police Scotland under the plans. Picture: Contributed

A report by respected academic Kath Murray said plans to hand British Transport Police’s (BTP) operations north of the border to Police Scotland were going ahead without detailed costings or a business plan being published. Under the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, BTP’s operations north of the Border will be taken over by Police Scotland.

It is expected the majority of BTP officers will transfer to the national force, although staff associations have suggested that some may leave.

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The new report, which has been published by the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, said: “At the time of writing there are major gaps in the evidence base on integration in Scotland.

“For example, it is unclear whether there will be a detrimental impact on railway policing in Scotland, or England and Wales, or how the risks will be mitigated.

“Looking at efficiency, detailed costings are not available. There are also concerns around governance and accountability, and the policy-making process to date, including the degree of consensus building.”

Staff associations, rail operators and the BTP itself have all raised concerns over the proposals.

Last month ScotRail warned the plans may lead to delays on the network and officers being called away for other duties.

The report adds: “Taking an overview of the recent debates, it seems reasonable to suggest that unless the case can be made more clearly, integration seems unlikely to secure stakeholder buy-in, at least, not in the short-term.

“A lack of wider buy-in also has implications in terms of legitimacy. In order to build consensus, it is recommended that the Scottish Government provide greater detail on how the concerns and risks raised thus far will be mitigated, and evidence as to how integration will actively benefit railway policing.”

Commenting on her report, Dr Murray said: “It is important that the facts are examined before a decision on integration is made.

“With this in mind, the report examines BTP’s specialist role and ethos, and current governance arrangements. The report sets out a range of questions about the proposed merger, and suggests that greater detail and clarity is needed to secure stakeholder and wider public support.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As Police Scotland have made clear, 
specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of Police Scotland, with improved access to wider support facilities and specialist equipment, providing an enhanced service provision to the rail industry and travelling public.

“Devolution of BTP’s functions was recommended by the Smith Commission, reached through cross-party agreement, and integration will also ensure railway policing is fully accountable to the Scottish Parliament.”