JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has launched a staunch defence of cutbacks which are set to hit police stations in his own constituency.
He backed Police Scotland’s plans to shut the public counter at Craigmillar police station and switch it to the local neighbourhood hub, and said slashing opening hours at Portobello and Howdenhall stations by 49 hours per week would still leave adequate cover.
The stance has incensed Porty constituents who have been finding it nigh-on impossible reporting a worrying spate of car crimes – because the police station is not open.
Mr MacAskill said: “The hub is the right place for the police to be in Craigmillar. It’s at the heart of the community, it’s where people go for the library, where they take their children, where they go to see housing or social work, and it’s important the police should be at the heart of the community too.”
He also defended the reduced opening hours at Portobello and Howdenhall from 7am to midnight to 8am-6pm.
“I think that’s adequate,” he said. “This is about police on the beat in the community. They face financial challenges because of cuts from Westminster but the police commitment, with the government, is a visible presence in the community – and it’s working.
“Recorded crime is at a 39-year low, homicide levels are the lowest since records began. These are outstanding results from the police service. What we have to do now is make sure officers are out on the streets, not sitting behind desks.”
His comments come as our campaign – Save Our Stations – gathers momentum. People have been clamouring to sign our petition, which calls for a rethink of the police proposals.
Ten stations in the Lothians are due to close their front counters, with reduced opening hours at seven more.
Kat Barron, 27, of Greendykes, dismissed Mr MacAskill’s justification for the cutbacks and said she could not understand the decision to relocate Craigmillar’s police station to the hub. She claimed it was not an appropriate location. She added: “I don’t know how it is going to work. It is only open 9am to 5pm so will the police station be the same with crime only between those hours?”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that on top of shutting public counters, Police Scotland is also expected to close seven out of its ten control rooms, though the Bilston Glen communication centre in Midlothian, is expected to remain open.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Instead of protecting the fire and police forces, centralisation has led to the asset-stripping of local services. Decades of progress have been wiped away with the stroke of a pen. When we had our local democratic police and fire boards, they could put a stop to these damaging closures.”
First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs most people now contacted the police by phone or online. He said: “The 101 non-emergency number receives 280,000 calls per month and its presence in social media now has 393,000 followers.”
But Tories pointed out the police tell people not to use Twitter or Facebook to report crimes.
The Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee on policing wants to quiz Chief Constable Sir Stephen House on the closure plans and has invited him to give evidence on October 31. Committee convener Christine Grahame said: “In the light of the growing local concern regarding policing in our communities, it is essential to hear from those at the top and their perspectives on this important issue.”
Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson stressed the current review was not about closing entire police station buildings. He said: “It’s about making front counter opening hours consistent across the country and it’s absolutely geared toward meeting local demand. It’s also about keeping as many police officers as possible out on the street, where they belong, keeping people safe.”
‘Portobello is becoming a lawless seaside town’
By DAWN MORRISON
PORTOBELLO residents have been unable to report a spate of car crimes because the station is already closed some of the time, it has been claimed.
Police Scotland has admitted the station – set for reduced hours under the new proposals – has been suffering from staffing problems.
The revelation has shocked residents who say car criminals are turning the seaside spot into a “no-go zone”, and they only expect the matter to get worse once they have nowhere to turn outside business hours, the times when most of the crimes are being committed,
Colin Crawford, 57, who works in marketing, said: “Portobello is becoming a lawless seaside town. Barely a night goes by where there’s not a car window broken into – there’s shattered glass all over the street.
“My camper van was broken into recently and the people responsible used tools they had stolen from the neighbour’s camper van. Portobello does not really have a police station – officers have to come from Craigmillar because these crimes are happening at night.
“At least eight cars have been broken in to lately it’s just getting out of control.”
The station is currently open from 7am until midnight, seven days per week – but under the new proposals, these hours would be reduced to 8am to 6pm, seven days a week.
How you can help
Back the campaign by displaying a poster and signing the petition, which is already available to sign at several locations including:
• The Mill at St Joseph’s, the cafe beside Balerno Parish Church;
• Balerno Garage Ltd, Deanpark Brae;
• Sideburns Barber Shop, Oxgangs Broadway, Oxgangs;
• Craigmillar Post Office, Niddrie Mains Road.
To receive a petition and poster e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131-620 8733, or call into the offices at 108 Holyrood Road.
Email the following to SoS@edinburghnews.com along with your name and address
“Dear Sir Stephen House,
I want my local police station to stay open to the public. Please think again.”