Fears aired on police and fire service plans

September 23, 2011

Local News

By Sarah Rollo – The Northern Scot

23 September 2011

Fears that Moray could become the ‘forgotten satellite’ have been voiced following the Scottish Government’s announcement on the future of both policing and fire and rescue services.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said a single police force and a move to a national fire and rescue service will safeguard the frontline services that communities depend on.

However, local representatives on both the Grampian Joint Police Board and Grampian Joint Fire and Rescue Board voiced dismay at the plans, which will bring savings of about £130 million a year.

Independent councillor for Forres, Lee Bell, said Grampian Police has taken massive strides forward over the past few years, cutting costs while still increasing detection rates and reducing crime.

“The fear that I have for one authority for Scotland is that we are going to be the forgotten satellite up in the North here, that resources will go to the central belt,” he said.

“I’m afraid now that the decision is made that we are just going to have to live with it and fight our corner to make sure that we get the resources that we deserve.”

Councillor Ron Shepherd, also on the Grampian Joint Police Board, said he opted for Scotland to be split into four forces during consultation.

“My concern is that rural resources must be preserved to protect frontline services across urban and rural Scotland,” he said.

“A lot of issues are to be resolved, particularly that of accountability. There will be no local elected members on Boards to fight for the Moray area, which will probably be from a HQ in the central belt.

My fears are also that we lose some part-time fire stations and our excellent fire tenders are moved elsewhere.

But we must move ahead and support the move and hope it is a success and we see little change on the running of our stations.”

SNP councillor for Elgin City South, Graham Leadbitter, argued local accountability would remain.

“The move to a single force shouldn’t hold any fears for the people in Moray,” he said.

“A lot has been said about the accountability through police boards, but if you asked 50 people on the street who their local police board members are, I’d be surprised if any of them knew.

“It is entirely possible to keep local accountability, which is what we already have through the divisional structure, and there is no reason to believe that that should be lost.

“In terms of a national police force, I think it is clear to most people that having eight different personnel departments, eight different finance departments, eight different fleet management systems, and so on, is money that is not being spent on frontline policing.”

Councillor John Divers, on the Grampian Joint Fire and Rescue Board, disagreed, stating that Moray will suffer.

“I believe that we in Moray and Grampian will lose out,” he said. “Pound for pound we have the best fire force in the country in terms of the equipment we have and the cost of it. We are much better off than Central Scotland, but in all probability, that is where it will be run from.

“In all probability we will be run by a force not achieving the same standards as the Grampian force is, and that can not be a good thing. I believe the standard of our equipment to be better.”

In a statement to Parliament on September 8, Mr MacAskill said the Scottish Police Service and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will carry out their duties free from political interference, protecting and improving local services across the country.

“All of our communities are rightly proud of the professionalism and dedication of our police and fire and rescue services, they are a credit to Scotland,” he said.

“Crime is now at a 35-year low and detection rates are improving, helped by 1,000 extra officers on the streets. Fire deaths are now 50% lower than a decade ago.

“However, the future of these excellent services is under threat from the spectre of huge financial cuts from Westminster – and the Scottish Government will not let this happen.

But we have the opportunity to make a virtue of necessity. By  reforming, we can make  sure money is spent on the front line and not on unnecessary duplication across eight services.”

A MORI poll following the announcement revealed over half (54%) of adults in Scotland oppose the proposal to Scotland’s police forces, while about a third (34%) support the plans.

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