Police station closures likely but cut in Lerwick opening hours provokes backlash
The closure of Scalloway and Dunrossness police stations are expected to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the Northern Joint Police Board on Friday – but councillors are angry about a proposal to cut halve opening hours at Lerwick police station.
The axe has been hanging over the stations since plans for a major £4.7 million cost-cutting exercise were announced last month.
Northern Constabulary is seeking a nine per cent cut in its budget – a total saving of £4,714,941 – in 2011/2012, in response to the public spending squeeze.
Further five per cent reductions will be sought for another three years under the best value review, which could see up to 16 stations close across the force area.
A final decision will be made by board members when they meet in Inverness.
Outlining the proposals to councillors at today’s meeting of the infrastructure committee was divisional commander of the police Northern Division Julian Innes, who pledged that the number of police officers in Shetland would not be cut.
He said that although the two rural stations are likely to shut, services would be retained. The Dunrossness station would move to a police base at Sumburgh Airport, while the Scalloway station would be replaced with “some type of surgery”, held on a regular basis in discussion with the community council, but still with the same policeman responsible for the area.
If the proposals are approved the stations would be closed on 31st March, although Dunrossness would not shut until the airport premises are in place. Councillors broadly approved these moves, although Scalloway member and chairwoman of the committee Iris Hawkins made a plea for the retention of Scalloway.
However councillors reacted badly to the possibility of halving the opening hours at Lerwick Police Station, which could be closed between the hours of 8pm to 8am.
Convener Sandy Cluness said: “This is the first time in the history of policing [in Shetland] that the door of Lerwick Police Station would close at 8pm. This cannot possibly be acceptable.” Most difficulties happen in the evening, he said, and he would send the “strongest possible message” that closing Lerwick Police Station to the public 12 hours a day is “simply not acceptable”.
Mr Innes said that a two-week exercise across the Northern Constabulary revealed that “footfall” into police stations tails off after 8pm and most people contact police by phone. The savings gained from the office closure would protect the jobs of frontline officers, he said.
When closed, calls to the office would be diverted to Wick, which as a central hub for the north would be open 24 hours, 365 days a year. Mr Innes said it would be “exactly the same conversation” as speaking to a member of staff in Lerwick, with police contacted by radio.
Mr Cluness said people want to talk to a policeman face to face. “They don’t want to ring Wick.” He criticised the proposals as a “much diminished” police service for the population of Shetland, and likened the proposed cutbacks to the impending loss of the rescue tug. “You never know when you’ll have to go to a police station,” he said.
Lerwick South councillor Gussie Angus said it would be like closing the 24 hospital A & E service.
South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan, who with his North Mainland counterpart Alastair Cooper is on the police board, agreed with Mr Cluness that the reduced hours would not be acceptable, especially on weekend nights.
In addition to the cut in hours, four administration staff at Lerwick Police Station may be made redundant, although the posts of cleaner and traffic warden/caretaker (currently vacant – the force is keen to recruit a replacement) would remain.
Mr Duncan queried who would do the force paperwork, but Mr Innes said the service would be streamlined by removing inessential jobs such a “production officer” who prepares items for use in evidence at court “which are often not used”.
The staff cuts would save up to £80,000 per year and the proposed 12 hours closure around £25,000 annually.
Savings from disposing of the police property at Dunrossness would yield £215,000 and from Scalloway £35,000. These offices currently cost £23,000 and £15,000 respectively per year to run.
Mr Innes said: “We have no plans at present to reduce police numbers in Shetland. The service we provide will be exactly the same although clearly there will be a perception of change. We’d like to reassure people we’re doing out very best to retain services while accepting we’re in difficult times.”