Shetland will have fewer police and fire officers under the Scottish government’s plan for pan-Scotland services, according to isles MSP Tavish Scott.
Mr Scott described the proposals, laid out in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill today, as “mad, bad and downright dangerous”.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill claimed a single police force and a single fire service would “bring local services to the heart of communities”. The government believes it will save £1.7 billion over 15 years by merging all police forces and all fire brigades.
Speaking in Galashiels, Mr MacAskill said: “There will be a stronger connection between communities and their local police and fire and rescue services, with designated local senior officers and a statutory duty on both services to provide proper local provision. Local authorities will approve plans for their area and, rather than a handful of councillors attending a regional board, many more councillors will have a say in what happens in their area. I expect to see the local commander and local senior officer coming before the council to explain and answer questions about police and fire services in the area.
“Our services will be independent, with no operational control from ministers but subject to parliamentary scrutiny. And our new services will be nothing without the skills and talents the workforce. Staff will transfer to the new services on the same terms and conditions.”
As well as parliamentary scrutiny, a new Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and fire board will be created to hold chief officers to account.
But Mr Scott dismissed the Bill as representign the “worst kind of central belt centralisation”.
“[These plans] put our excellent local and responsive policing and island fire stations at risk,” he said. “A single national police force will be controlled by central government. The chief police Officer of Scotland, inevitably based in Glasgow, will worry rather more about Old Firm football matches than policing Commercial Street on a Saturday night.
“Also who controls the police? At the moment if there is a police inquiry into misconduct it is conducted by another Scottish force. That won’t happen under a nationalist police force. [The nationalists] are hardly going to turn to England for help. So there may be no check now on a government controlled force. That is profoundly disturbing.
“These nationalist proposals that they will railroad through parliament are illiberal, authoritarian and the worst kind of central belt centralisation. Most police officers from chief constables in the Highlands and Islands and Grampian down to men and women on the beat are opposed to these plans. The Scottish government should drop these bad proposals.”
Chief superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), called for an early appointment of the chief constable designate and for the headquarters to be located at Tulliallan Castle in Fife, the home of the Scottish Police College.
Mr O’Connor said: “I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge but a pragmatic and incremental approach which focuses upon maintaining service delivery to the current high levels together with improving public and staff confidence throughout must be at the centre of all that we seek to achieve and the public demands.”