Accusations of secrecy over Police Scotland station review
Opposition parties have called for more information about Police Scotland plans to close up to 58 Scottish police stations
One of the police stations that is under review, Galston Police Station in East Ayrshire - Image credit: trawets1 via Flickr
Opposition parties have expressed concern at reports that more than 50 police stations across Scotland are being considered for closure.
The Scottish Conservatives have said that if closures go ahead it could reduce the visibility of police in towns and cities at a time when officer numbers are already under pressure.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Claire Baker said ministers could “no longer bury their head in the sand” that budget shortages will not affect local policing.
The plans to close 58 police stations emerged through a freedom of information (FOI) request by BBC Scotland.
Baker said: "Under the SNP, Police Scotland faces a £27 million revenue budget overspend. SNP ministers can no longer bury their head in the sand and claim that this will not have an impact on local policing.
"The overspend is forcing Police Scotland’s hand and the potential closure of local stations is just the next step for a force desperately trying to make ends meet.
"This will cause considerable alarm in communities across Scotland and the public therefore needs to be kept informed every step of the way.
“That is why the secrecy involved is particularly worrying, with this only coming to light following a freedom of information request. That is completely unacceptable and will spark legitimate fears of a cover-up.”
Police stations under review include Leith in Edinburgh, Hawick, Ayr, Oban, Largs, Gourock, Lochgilphead, Gretna, Kirkcudbright and Carnoustie.
The review is still ongoing and some of those listed may be retained. Where closures do go ahead, police officers could share buildings with other public agencies.
Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Cowie told BBC Scotland: "It makes little sense to maintain old and expensive buildings when smaller, more collaborative options may be available."
However, Scottish Conservative community safety spokesperson Oliver Mundell criticised the plans.
He said: “When police station front counters were closed a couple of years ago, it was promised that police stations would stay open.”
“Police stations are not like bank branches – it’s not about how many customers are using them, it’s about ensuring a safe and reassuring presence in the community.
“There is hard evidence that dealing directly with a police officer is still people’s favoured way of reporting a crime.”
Claire Baker has submitted an urgent parliamentary question to Scottish ministers about the possible closures, while Scottish Greens Justice spokesperson John Finnie has written to the chief constable of Police Scotland and is awaiting a response.
Highlands and Islands MSP and former policeman Finnie said: "Of course all organisations should review processes and I don't doubt some of these buildings will be less than ideal for modern needs but some of the locations on the list are very worrying.
“For instance, to see five stations in Argyll under threat suggests we could have no police presence on the West coast at all, and it's simply bizarre to think communities the size of Ayr and Leith could have no police station.
"While many people do use phone and the internet to interact with police, there is still a significant number of people - many elderly and vulnerable - who do not. Accessibility is paramount.
"In the past, Police Scotland have handled counter closures badly, so lessons must be learned.
"While there is much to be said for co-location of public services, we must prevent withdrawal from communities."
It has been acknowledged that there are problems with the police state of police stations in Scotland.
At a fringe meeting at the SNP conference last month, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation Calum Steele showed pictures of dilapidated briefing rooms in police stations.
“This will demonstrate quite starkly that we have a genuine crisis coming round the corner as far as our facilities are concerned,” he said.
Responding to the photos, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “They illustrate the chronic under investment that has taken place within the police over many decades and the challenges that will be faced going forward for Police Scotland to try and invest in these areas where they can in order to improve the conditions within these facilities.
“But these are not issues that have just arisen through the creation of Police Scotland.
“They have been there for many, many years and it is going to take time to deal with some of these issues.
“A key part of what has to happen is for the service to prioritise areas where it wants to see that capital investment going into to make sure that it is dealing with the areas that require to be addressed as early as possible.
“There is an estate plan which the service are taking forward, part of which will be to look at some of these areas of investment.”
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