Justice Committee to begin inquiry into devolved railway policing

Written by Jenni Davidson on 7 March 2017 in News

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee begins its examination of the Railway Policing Bill tomorrow

Scotrail train - Image credit: unknown via Flickr

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee will begins its inquiry into devolved railway policing this morning.

The committee will be taking evidence on the Railway (Scotland) Policing Bill, which proposes to make railway policing a specialist division of Police Scotland north of the border.

The bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 8 December, following a recommendation in the Smith Commission to devolve the functions of the British Transport Police.

Written submissions to the committee have expressed concerns over the plans.

Around 30 individuals, many employees of British Transport Police have sent submissions to the committee, in addition to organisations such as British Transport Police Federation, the Law Society of Scotland, Police Scotland and the Rail Delivery Group.

Key issues raised include retention of a dedicated force with specialist skills, managing cross-border policing, staff retention and possible changes to staff terms and conditions.

British Transport Police said: “The current specialist approach of BTP has been developed over many years, underpinned by a deep and clear understanding of the unique requirements of the railway and its stakeholders.

“Organisational strategy is set in close consultation with stakeholders and is driven by the priorities of the railway industry, its passengers and staff.

“For example, helping to reduce delay and disruption is a specific objective that does not feature in other force strategies.”

This is echoed by the British Transport Police Federation (BTPF), which said: “The understanding of the environment is essential; a lack of experience by a manager making command decisions could be costly, but more importantly, potentially life threatening.”

The BTPF also said: “Having two Police Forces responsible for policing the railway environment creates unnecessary borders and barriers.”

“The BTP’s current operational trunking is national with control rooms covering the north and south of the country linked to the same command and control.

“At present police Scotland is still in the integration phase of their radio control and its £60 million computer project ‘i6’ was shelved when it became clear that the technical solution could not be delivered within expected timeframes and budget.

The ability to track and monitor the movements of potential offenders or indeed manage a cross border issue with a disrupted control infrastructure or indeed one that is not intrinsically linked could be problematic.

The Samaritans also highlighted the specialist skills that Transport Police have in dealing not only with suicides, but also traumatised staff in the wake of trainline deaths.

Unlike the other police forces, the British Transport Police is funded primarily by the industry itself and exists to serve the service as well as to deal with crime.

Officers provide a crime prevention service, patrolling stations, and have to manage dealing with crimes and incidents which may have been committed on a train service anywhere on the network while also ensuring delays are minimised.

According to a briefing from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) published earlier this month, the Scottish Government has confirmed its intention to keep railway policing as a specialist function within Police Scotland.

SPICe said: “The Scottish Government has stated that this ‘will retain the specialist skills, knowledge and experience that BTP officers and staff have built up and will embed railway policing within the wider local, specialist and national resources of Police Scotland, ensuring that the policing of Scotland’s transport infrastructure is well equipped to meet current and emerging threats’.”



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