Concerns aired over ‘central belt’ influence on emergency services

Shetland’s needs are being pushed out to the boundaries following the centralisation of emergency services.

That was the warning at last night’s meeting of Lerwick Community Council.

SIC Convener Malcolm Bell pic 3
Malcolm Bell is concerned about the “central belt” influence.

SIC convener Malcolm Bell, who is a former area commander for the old Northern Constabulary, warned against a “central belt” influence being felt in the 999 services.

He cited Police Scotland initiatives against crimes such as “gang warfare” as examples of programmes which had no bearing on policing in the isles. However, he insisted he had no criticism against local management or leadership.

Mr Bell’s comments came as members discussed an invitation by the nationwide fire service to provide feedback on its new rescue plan for the isles over the next three years.

It follows a decision last week to close the Inverness fire control room, giving rise to concerns local knowledge may be lost.

The consultation was branded “irrelevant” for Shetland by members, while the draft document was dismissed as itself a consequence of centralisation.

“This is an inevitable consequence of what happens when organisations are centralised. We’re seeing it very clearly within the police and fire services” said Mr Bell.

“More and more we’re seeing a central belt influence coming in. There is a police initiative, for example, against gang warfare that has no relevance to Shetland.

“It is not a criticism at all of our local management or leadership.”

He had been echoing points made by fellow SIC councillor Michael Stout, who said the local fire and rescue plan failed to reflect any of the issues facing Shetland, such as the closure of Inverness control.

Michael Stout:
Michael Stout: “I question the relevance of us making any comment at all.”

“This is a good example of a document that has nothing wrong with it, as it stands, but issues like the closing down of the fire control room in Inverness – which is of far more potential relevance to us – are not reflected at all,” said Mr Stout.

“What difference does it make? I question the relevance of us making any comment at all.”

Community councillor Eddie Knight was equally unconvinced that the fire service would take heed of any feedback.

“They listen to it, and then they do what they want,” he insisted.

The draft local plan is described as a “significant milestone” in the development of fire and rescue service delivery by local senior officer for Shetland, Billy Wilson.

In a letter to community councillors he urged them to provide feedback to the plan.

“Your views are important to the service and I would encourage you to provide feedback.”

He also stated he would be in Shetland during this month, and said he would be happy to meet community councillors to discuss the plan.

Consultation on the document closes on 14th February.


Add Your Comment
  • Frank Winston

    • February 4th, 2014 14:17

    I think Malcom Bells fears are well founded. Currently Police phones both emergency and non emergency are answered in Inverness. If the reorganisation goes ahead then they will be answered in the central belt where local knowledge will not be known. Reducing of station hours and civilian Police Staff has already happened Shetland no longer has a traffic warden. Officers are being moved from local duties to specialist teams which are controlled by the central belt with fewer decisions able to be made in Inverness. This is just the first year. No one yet knows what will happen after 1/4/14 but I cannot see it improving unless the public and it’s representatives voice their opinion as The Act so instructs Police Scotland to obtain
    North Convener
    UNISON Police Staff Scotland

  • Ali Inkster

    • February 4th, 2014 17:07

    Its makes not the slightest bit of odds to Shetland whether the phone is answered in Inverness or Dundee or anywhere else outside these isles as none of them have local Knowledge. I was told the other night by a friend who was going to be taking his car to the disabled parking for up helly aa and the police in Inverness did not even know there was anything on in Lerwick far less the fire festival. If all the money Shetland puts into the UK/Scottish economy is not worth giving us a emergency control room for all services in Shetland then this is yet another reason we would be better of clear o the lot o them.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 4th, 2014 20:28

    I’m saddened to say this is cant, pure humbug. As far as centralisation is concerned, the SIC is doing exactly the same as the Scottish Government, steadily and progressively, corralling all the facilities and services into Lerwick.

    I am finding it increasingly difficult to continue supporting greater local powers for SIC while I see them becoming a ‘government for Lerwick’, as opposed to one for ‘Shetland’ as a whole.

    • Johan Adamson

      • February 5th, 2014 9:30

      I agree on centralisation John, everything is slip sliding into Lerwick and then to Edinburgh. It doesnt make any sense to make the overcrowded cities even more overcrowded whilst not supporting remote and rural areas, buiding houses on flood plains just to get more scarce land used around heavily populated areas, not creating jobs for our graduates to come back to; taking the bairns into Lerwick, not allowing them to contribute to the things that make Shetland different, but living in Lerwick, a grey town which could really be anywhere in Scotland, with a bit o dressing up in January. Why create more jobs in Dundee and not move the call centre here? Especially in this age of technology, with no knowledge of anywhere, does it matter where it is sited? We’ve all turned into sheep, following the herd, where all our bairns are just a number, in a standard town school of a regimented 25 per classroom. Brave new world, there it is again. I again choose the wilderness.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 4th, 2014 20:35

    Michael Stout reportedly said “What difference does it make? I question the relevance of us making any comment at all.”

    Michael isn’t one of the culprits, however, I don’t doubt his comment will resonate through the rural districts.

  • Robert Duncan

    • February 5th, 2014 21:23

    “Why create more jobs in Dundee and not move the call centre here? Especially in this age of technology, with no knowledge of anywhere, does it matter where it is sited?”

    Is this a serious comment?

    • John Tulloch

      • February 5th, 2014 22:57

      What would be wrong with that?

    • Johan Adamson

      • February 6th, 2014 9:14

      Yes. Why Dundee? Is it not political? Why should the emergency service be sited in a certain place over another? Explain?
      I was expecting some umbridge at my Lerik comment, but not at this bit

      • Robert Duncan

        • February 6th, 2014 22:18

        There are strong arguments for retaining a Highlands and Islands base in Inverness – and I see some merit in the calls for a smaller scale, local centre for Shetland – but the idea of basing any national centre in Shetland is just ludicrous. Why open yourself up to that sort of risk for almost no conceivable gain?

        For all that we complain people on the mainland know nothing of our local geography, the average Shetlander will know as little of the mainland. The issue being that a fraction of 1% of the population lives here, and therefore a fraction of 1% of the calls are affected by this Holy Grail of local knowledge.

        That’s without even considering how on Earth you plan to staff this base. We have a tiny, elderly population and extremely high employment levels – hardly the ideal labour market for an emergency service wherein staff shortages could be disasterous. You’d require significant relocation of staff from elsewhere and, let’s be frank about this, people without existing ties to Shetland rarely want to move here.

        Of course it matters where these services are based – there are important considerations like these long before getting into anything political.

      • John Tulloch

        • February 6th, 2014 22:38

        The Dundee MSPs are:

        Joe Fitzpatrick, SNP, Minister for Parliamentary Business and

        Shona Robison, SNP, Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport.

        Dundee City Council is also SNP-dominated.

      • John Tulloch

        • February 6th, 2014 23:20

        @Robert Duncan,

        If there are strong arguments for having a fire service regional call centre in Inverness, in order that readers may appreciate them in full, including those who don’t have internet access or computer skills, perhaps you’d consider putting them in a letter to the Shetland Times?

      • Johan Adamson

        • February 7th, 2014 9:09

        Robert, you are not getting my point. I am sure Dundee could do with the job creation. Does that mean moving the centre when someone else needs a job creation scheme? Doesnt that mean permanent loss of jobs for us and Highland in this sector, and the other centralised government offices that have preceded this? It means if your bairn goes to uni and wants to come home to work there will be very little choice of work here.

      • Robert Duncan

        • February 7th, 2014 11:27

        I’m not too long out of university myself, it’ll be a long time before I have children in that position.

        I’m not sure where the idea that this is about job creation has come from, nor am I sure if I agree with it. I was under the impression that it was just a rationalising and restructuring of the service, and indeed one of the few additions it offers is the command and control centre that will now be based in Inverness.

        John, I have very little interest in writing to Readers Views or similar.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 5th, 2014 23:07

    Scotland’s first rural parliament is to meet in Oban on November 2014, following on from the inaugural European Rural Parliament held on 13th November 2013.

    As reported in on-line newsblog “For Argyll and the Islands”:

    “It was felt that: ‘The work of addressing the sustainability of our rural communities can only be undertaken through vital local democracies and a strong partnership and between those who make policy affecting our rural areas, and those who live and work within them.’

    The Scottish Rural Parliament will exist to develop Scotland’s rural communities by bringing people and policy makers together to drive rural issues up the agenda and define actions and policies to assist in that process.

    Any word of anything similar happening in Shetland?

  • Andy Holt

    • February 6th, 2014 10:05

    No-one should be surprised at the centralising of powers and services in both Shetland and Scotland. This is merely a foretaste of things to come in the event of a “yes” vote in the referendum. Command and control economic policy, centralised self-serving beaurocracy and increased levels of taxation to pay for it all. And, frankly, what goes around comes around as far as the view from the country areas of Shetland is concerned.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.