Watchdog champions single Scots police force

A SINGLE Scottish police force is needed to protect the service against cuts in public spending, according to the country's chief inspector of constabulary.

Paddy Tomkins says tighter public spending is strengthening the case for scrapping the current set-up of eight police forces in favour of a national police body.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Tomkins said policing in Scotland "cannot afford" to remain in its present structure and he argues a single force is needed.

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Scotland's police receive about 1.2 billion a year but have been told by ministers to make annual efficiency savings of 2 per cent. Concern over reduced funding to the Scottish Government from Westminster in future years and increased pensions costs are also impacting on the police service.

Mr Tomkins said: "If things continue, and public services become so constrained that you have to make very radical revisions to how they do business, that can be a major positive force for change.

"That inevitably impacts on structure. We need to have no assumptions (in] discussions about the future of the police in Scotland.

"It's my view that there should be a single national police force." Mr Tomkins had advocated a single force prior to taking up the watchdog role two years ago.

But last year, he told a Scottish Police Federation conference that he had changed his mind on the issue.

However, on the eve of his departure from the post, he has reopened the debate over the future of the Scottish police service.

His comments will not go down well with many chief constables who are firmly opposed to merging forces.

In January, Mr Tomkins published a report into the future of policing, which called for the creation of a national steering group to decide which police functions should be carried out nationally.

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He said: "My time in the job has strengthened my view that many functions need to be delivered nationally. It's convinced me that local policing does not need the overheads of those back-office functions.

"It defeats me why we need eight different payroll structures, eight different HR structures, eight different recruiting structures, and I could go on."

Chief Constable Colin McKerracher, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said he thought that talk of a national force was ''premature''.

He said: "The subject of changes to the structure of policing in Scotland comes up from time to time and we are always prepared to take part in the debate.

''Until, however, there are firm proposals for fundamental changes to the structure of local government as well as policing, we believe the subject is on hold and the debate a little premature."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "There are no plans to change the number of police forces in Scotland, which serve our communities well."