Consultation divides forces
Apr 25, 2011 No Comments
The fact policing has become one of the major talking points in the election campaign will surprise no one – but regardless of which party emerges victorious after 5 May it appears a radical change to Scottish policing is on the horizon.
Plans to merge Scotland’s eight police forces into one national unit have become a key election issue.
But while countless column inches are being devoted to the arguments for and against a single force, it seems little is being said about the damage the debate may have on police morale.
If those in support of the plans needed a reminder that staunch opposition exists, it was duly delivered at last week’s Scottish Police Federation conference in Aviemore.
But for supporters, a single police service in Scotland would increase capacity for counter-terrorism and fighting serious organised crime. More crucially, it would free up money spent on duplication and could lead to police officer numbers being maintained in the tough economic climate.
The previous Scottish Government calculated that merging the eight current forces into one could cost £92m to set up but save up to £154m per year.
A public consultation on whether to have a single force or three or four regional units is currently ongoing.
But there is no shortage of opposition to the plans – and it is said the plans could limit local accountability and incur job losses.
It is also claimed that the merging of eight forces would not save significant funds. The plans were dealt a further blow earlier this month when it was claimed a single force would face a £20m annual VAT bill.
Regardless of the arguments for and against, it is now clear that the next administration will have to work with a divided police sector.
The differing opinions amongst the top echelons are already clear – some chief constables have publicly supported it, while others have condemned it.
That level of division will undoubtedly filter its way through to the rank and file.
The future of policing seems to have become so party political that by the time the dust settles after 5 May, the next administration may first have to try and repair some of the damage created during the campaign before looking to transform structures.
It has been estimated that having a single force could save more than £50m a year, but the dissension created by the consultation may do more damage in the long run.