Police stations ‘must shut’ to keep cuts on track

Local policing could be hit by cutbacks. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Local policing could be hit by cutbacks. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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MASSIVE cuts still required from Scotland’s new single police force make it more likely that local police stations will be closed and sold off, politicians have warned.

An Audit Scotland report published today on the merger of the eight former forces to create Police Scotland said the shake-up was intended to save £1.1 billion by 2026, but it was not clear how that would be achieved.

Police chiefs already want to close the public counters at ten stations across Edinburgh and the Lothians, which are used by more than 100,000 people a year, as well as slashing opening hours at seven more. But with more cuts still to find, the fear is that a review of police properties already under way will have to come up with more far-reaching cuts than planned.

Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “The ­programme of police counter closures is about having to save money.

“If Audit Scotland is now telling us the type of savings the police need to make ­cannot be made under that programme, it follows that many of those stations which have been all but shut by the closure of their counters will now close altogether.”

The report said in the ­current year, 2013/14, Police Scotland had identified £55.4 million of savings, but a further £8.5m still had to be found.

And it warned: “The government expects police reform to save £1.1 billion by 2026, but it is not clear how these savings will be achieved.

“The SPA and Police Scotland need to finalise and agree a financial strategy with detailed savings plans by the end of March 2014.”

The report said the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintain police officer numbers at 17,234 and no ­compulsory redundancies for police staff limited the scope for savings,

It also said the move to a single service was hampered by poor information, a lack of clarity about roles, and ­difficult relationships between the ­government, Police Scotland and SPA and added: “Considerable work is now required to build mutual confidence, trust and respect.”

Ms Dugdale said: “The whole process of rationalisation and cuts driven by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has left the police in complete disarray. There is disagreement right, left and centre, delays to all the things they are trying to achieve – and what it means ultimately is an erosion of community policing, which is the main thing people want from the police service.”

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said the move to a single force was “the biggest change to policing in Scotland for a generation”.

“The process of change however is only just beginning and while much has already been achieved there is much more to be done to deliver an efficient, modern policing service within the challenges of the financial constraints.”

SPA chair Vic Emery said the government’s commitment on officer numbers made future savings “hugely challenging”.

But he said: “We are ­confident we will deliver all the savings required of us in this first year.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This report provides a snapshot of where the reform process was earlier this year.

“It does not reflect the considerable work which has been undertaken since then.”

CITY-WIDE CONSULTATION DATES

POLICE chiefs are continuing a city-wide consultation on the future of local policing with drop-in sessions for the public.

People can have their say on the 2014-17 Edinburgh Policing Plan at sessions being held:

Tomorrow, 2.30pm - 4.30pm Newington Library.

Saturday, 10am - noon Blackhall Library.

Tuesday, 10am - noon City Council South Neighbourhood Office.

Wednesday, 10am - noon North Edinburgh Local Office.

Friday, noon - 2pm Oxgangs Library.

Monday, November 25, noon - 2pm Drumbrae Hub.

Wednesday, November 27, noon - 2pm Piershill Library.

Friday, November 29, noon - 2pm Wester Hailes Library.