Shetland’s police service will not suffer from radical proposals to create a single force for Scotland.
That was the message from the Scottish government’s community safety minister, Fergus Ewing, when he visited the isles today.
Mr Ewing was on a whistlestop tour to try to allay fears of a possible diminution of services should a single Scottish police force be given the green light.
He met council leaders as well as police chiefs and fire officers to discuss the plans which are currently out for public consultation.
Similar proposals which could see the fire service altered are also up for discussion.
Mr Ewing insisted policing in the isles would remain community-based, and would continue to be run locally even if a single force was formed.
“In the case of police we think there is a strong case for a single police force in Scotland.
“First of all, policing is essentially a local service. Nowhere more so than in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.
“It’s always going to be a locally delivered service. Fortunately you do not have a problem in Shetland with serious crime in the way you might have in places like, for example, Glasgow.
“The local policing will be community-based. It will be different from that in our central belt cities.
“I gather from [convener] Sandy Cluness that there are already as close links with Grampian in Aberdeen as there are with Inverness, because of connections with the ferry, the air connections and the oil industry.
“It will not be run from Edinburgh or the central belt. It will be run locally.”
Alternative proposals to the single Scotland-wide force include running a “regional model” which would see three or four police forces in operation throughout Scotland, or to continue with the existing eight forces.
Mr Ewing said running eight police forces cost the government £1,400 million a year. The fire service, meanwhile, costs £400 million to operate annually.
“We want to improve the quality of the services. We need to use the taxpayers’ money to best effect.
“We think doing things eight times over involves duplication and that having eight distinct entities involves duplication and extra cost and also a lack of flexibility.
“I believe that, particularly, the islands have nothing to fear and much to gain from a single fire service and a single police force.”
However Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has attacked the proposals.
“A single police force, based in the central belt, would have little interest in Shetland. It is vital that we maintain our opposition to the plan.
“The SNP seems hell bent on pushing this through. They may hide behind their consultation and claim that no decision has been made, but all the signs are that they want to force it through.
“The justice minister wants to stop Strathclyde Police’s plan to build a new headquarters – presumably because he wants them to hold back until they can build an even bigger one from which the police from Unst to the Mull of Galloway will be controlled.
“And at last week’s First Minister’s Question Time, when I pointed out to Alex Salmond that all bar one of Scotland’s chief constables opposes the plan for a national police force, he ignored the point talking instead about the costs savings he claims a merger would bring.
“If he treats the views of senior police officers with such contempt, it seems clear that he sees the consultation as just a rubber stamping exercise for his centralising plan.
“And, by talking up the cost savings, he conveniently ignores the fact that the Labour Party in London had to give up similar centralising plans in England because the figures there didn’t stack up.
“I will work along with the council in opposing the centralising plan which the other parties all want to impose on us.”
The proposals can be seen on the Scottish government’s website. The deadline for any views submitted is 5th May.