Edinburgh police counters out of action despite being saved

Police say there are no current plans to move out of Leith
Police say there are no current plans to move out of Leith

PUBLIC counters at some of Edinburgh’s police stations are shut or on restricted hours more often than they are open at the advertised times.

The worst affected was Leith police station, where the counter was fully open for just 29 days out of 261 during the first nine months of last year.

New Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald

New Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald

Official figures show the Capital’s two main police stations, Gayfield and St Leonard’s – where the public counters are meant to be open 24/7 – were the only ones which lived up to their promised operating hours.

The Evening News campaigned three years ago to save public counters across Edinburgh and the Lothians from closure in a swingeing programme of police cuts.

Five were reprieved while seven closed and others had their opening hours cut.

But the latest figures show in many cases even the counters which survive are not being kept open to the public as intended.

MSP'Alison Johnstone. 'Green.

MSP'Alison Johnstone. 'Green.

Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro said: “I think it’s appalling.

“Edinburgh gives £2.6 million per year for a community police service but we are not getting it. They can’t even be bothered keeping the police counters open.

“If you look at the crime statistics, Leith police station is one of the busiest in Scotland so it needs to be open for the public to go to.”

And he blamed the move from Scotland’s system of eight separate forces to a single organisation when Police Scotland was established in 2013.

“It’s all down to the way Police Scotland is organised. It’s dysfunctional. The Scottish Government has broken a police service that was working before.

“Who are the police accountable to now? That’s how they can get away with this.”

The statistics, obtained by the Evening News under freedom of information legislation, show a varied picture across the city.

But Leith’s police counter – where the the hours are meant to be 7am-midnight seven days a week – was open as advertised on only 29 days between January 1 and September 22 this year. It was totally shut on 31 days and operated restricted hours on 201 days.

Howdenhall and Corstorphine also had more days when their counters were closed or on reduced hours than days when they were open as intended. Craigmillar and West End were close to being in the same position; and Wester Hailes and Drylaw were not far behind.

Police have said a growing number of people choose to contact them online or by phone.

But Harald Tobermann, vice-chair of Leith Central Community Council, said the reality of counter opening hours was going against what had been promised.

“It fits with the bigger picture of Police Scotland that they seem not to be in the best state.”

He said many people did everything online now. But he added: “Many of the older generation prefer face to face and if it was something sensitive you would want the choice to see someone.”

In 2014, Police Scotland announced a major programme of public counter cutbacks, including plans to close ten counters across Lothian and reduce opening hours at others. An Evening News campaign succeeded in reversing the plans to shut the counters at South Queensferry, Linlithgow and Tranent – the only ones in mainland Scotland to be saved. And later the force said the counters at Corstorphine and Craigmillar police stations would stay open despite plans to transfer services to local neighbourhood hubs.

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “I’m dismayed to learn that even the reduced counter service is not available when people expect it to be.

“It’s really important people can go to a police station as and when they need to.

“I think a lot of people really want that reassuring one-to-one meeting rather than relying on a computer or a phone and I’m saddened that in many cases that’s no longer available.”

And George McIrvine, of Unison, the union which represents police staff, said: “This is not what the public expect or deserve.”

He said the force should be sticking to what was agreed in 2014.

Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald, divisional commander for Edinburgh, said he understood a front counter service was important to many sections of the community.

“But I equally acknowledge that the frequency that they are used is in decline with other ways to access our services available, such as by phone, online, or by calling to make an appointment for a police officer to attend your home at a pre-arranged time.

“We have had vacancies for front counter staff at Leith, Howdenhall and St Leonard’s which have now been filled or are progressing through the recruitment process. It is a priority to keep both St Leonard’s and Gayfield, the main city centre stations, open 24/7 and so this will sometimes mean that outlying stations are closed and staff transferred in order to maintain these busier front counters.

“I will wherever possible use officers who do not carry out frontline duties, for example if they are recovering from injury, to staff front counters vacancies but it would be inappropriate to take operational officers away from responding to calls from the public and providing that visible reassurance on the streets of Edinburgh. This does mean that sometimes some of outlying counters will be closed as a result, but I don’t believe the public would want me to remove operational officers from our communities for this purpose.

“If a member of the public calls at a station where the front counter is closed, they will be able to speak to our Service Centre using the free public contact telephone and officers will return to the station if required.”