MacAskill under fire over police counter closures

Kenny MacAskill supports the police cuts. Picture: Kenny Smith
Kenny MacAskill supports the police cuts. Picture: Kenny Smith
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JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill voiced concern about a rise in break-ins and antisocial behaviour in his Edinburgh East seat – after backing cuts and closures of police station counters.

Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said she had learned that Mr MacAskill – who boasted of a 39-year low in recorded crime during a debate in the Scottish Parliament – was carrying out a survey among constituents in Portobello when she conducted her own survey on the counter closures.

She told MSPs 96 per cent of those who responded to her questionnaire were opposed to the reduced opening hours planned for the front desk at Portobello police station.

She said: “One said how ironic it was that the same day they received my survey they received a survey from the Cabinet Secretary, who was concerned about a rising spate of break-ins and recent antisocial behaviour in the area.

“I wonder if he would care to share the results of that survey with the chamber?”

During the debate, Labour Central Scotland MSP Siobhan McMahon said she had recently phoned the 
non-emergency 101 number, cited as one alternative to visiting a police counter.

She said: “I was told not to report the crime on the phone, but to go into the local police office.”

Amid laughter, Mr MacAskill said: “There are matters where I think the control room quite correctly say that matter has to go to the police station.

“There are matters that would be of a sexual nature or assaults and would have to go there.”

Mr MacAskill said there was “a lot of manufactured outrage in this chamber” and accused the opposition of trying to “trash the record of the police”.

On his own constituency, he said: “We have an outstanding police service in East Edinburgh and we shouldn’t 
traduce it.”

Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said West Lothian had the largest projected population growth in the country yet police stations at Armadale, Linlithgow and West Calder were set to close to the public.

He said for there to be no accessible police station close to Addiewell, which had a prison with 800 inmates, was “plain stupidity”.

Mr Findlay said the fact Police Scotland had received fewer than 70 responses showed its consultation was fundamentally flawed.

He had conducted his own consultation in West Calder, a town of 5500, and received 100 written responses and 120 e-mails.

He called on Mr MacAskill to “stop this sham in its tracks”. And he added: “He is politically accountable for these decisions and I’m afraid on this one he’s guilty as charged.”

But Edinburgh Western SNP MSP Colin Keir said the switch of counter services from Corstorphine police station to the Drum Brae hub was “doing the best for our community”.

Closing the debate, Labour’s Elaine Murray said: “The Edinburgh Evening News has pointed out that 100,000 visits are made every year to the ten police counters proposed for closure in the Lothians.

“The idea that the 101 number can somehow replace the reassurance of contact with a member of police staff at a time of crisis is risible.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com