Call for summit to make police account for actions

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A SUMMIT on police accountability is being called for early in the new year amid growing concerns about a loss of local influence.

Since the merger of Scotland’s eight former forces into the single service Police Scotland, there have been claims of “Glasgowfication” of policing across the country.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has been accused of imposing Strathclyde-style tactics on issues ranging from the crackdown on sex-for-sale saunas to increased use of stop and search.

Now Vic Emery, chair of the Scottish Police Authority, has announced his intention of bringing together his own board, Police Scotland and the chairs of the 32 local scrutiny committees across the country for talks on how to make sure local input has an effect. No date has yet been fixed for the summit, but it may come too late to affect controversial plans to close police stations to the public as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Although police chiefs have U-turned on proposals for closing public counters at three Edinburgh and Lothian stations, another seven are still under threat. The closures are due to take effect in March.

SNP councillor Mike Bridgman, chair of Edinburgh’s police and fire committee, said a summit was a good move.

He said: “I welcome the fact it is now being recognised there has to be some local involvement in Police Scotland. The public perception is that since the formation of a single police force they no longer see the police at public meetings and thing like that.

“Prior to Police Scotland, police were more involved in the community and attending meetings – that’s something we had built up over the past ten years and it was proved to be working because crime went down. But people feel that was lost at an early stage with the new single force.

“We have to take public concerns into account because, after all, it is a public service financed by taxpayers’ money.”

Mr Emery announced the summit plan in a speech at a conference in Edinburgh.

He said police engagement with communities, and how local influence was reflected in local plans and national strategies was a key debate.

“How do we ensure that local priorities and plans influence national policy? Local relationships are strong. But a joint event to discuss how we can work creatively to further strengthen the links between national and local planning, engagement and scrutiny would be a valuable exercise.”

An SPA source said Mr Emery was keen to get the local committee chairs together with the authority and Police Scotland to look at “scrutiny arrangements both nationally and locally and how to link them”.

The source added: “A lot of local authorities have been quite concerned about the arrangements and felt local influence was being eroded.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com