Police Scotland have revealed plans to withdraw counter services in Balerno, Oxgangs, South Queensferry and more than 60 other stations across the country. In April, the Scottish Courts Service signalled their intention to close 17 Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts in Scottish towns.
These measures will pile pressure onto fragile local economies and undermine efforts to turn around Scotland’s high streets. But it isn’t just the justice system that’s pulling out of our small towns and our city’s neighbourhoods. We have also seen college mergers, planned fire control room closures, and the disappearance of many libraries.
As public bodies look to make savings, it seems many are choosing to consolidate their estates, reduce headcounts outside head offices, narrowing the number of public services – and the range of jobs and economic activity – in high streets.
Taking away well-paid public sector jobs, local services and associated passing trade makes it harder to sustain the critical mass of economic activity necessary to keep our towns healthy. The withdrawal of police counter won’t turn a vibrant local area into a sterile dormitory. But it won’t help. The move not only withdraws a service, it also severs a key link between the police and the local business community.
Many acknowledged that, to survive in the 21st Century, our town centres need to have a mix of sectors and employers. They need more than just retailers. Indeed, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “By diversifying our high streets we will make them even better places to live, work and socialise.”
If the Scottish Government is serious about safeguarding our local communities, this needs to be reflected in decisions taken by every department and agency. Too many public bodies are considering their own cash savings plans, with little consideration of the local economic impact of their decisions.
Independent businesses continue to fight for their towns, high streets and local communities. But, they can’t do it alone.
Gordon Henderson is a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses