THE man behind controversial plans to close police station public counters today promised to listen to public concerns and make changes to the proposals.
The Evening News has been campaigning for a rethink on the plans which include axeing front desks at ten stations in Edinburgh and the Lothians currently used by more than 100,000 people a year and slashing opening hours at seven more.
With the deadline for comments from the public and politicians closing today, Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson insisted that bosses would listen to the concerns and suggestions from the public before finalising their plans, but warned police had a job to safeguard taxpayers’ money.
He also said that even where counters were closed, people would still be able to make appointments to go into a police station to report a crime.
Mr Mawson told the News: “We will look at all the feedback from the public and elected members, pull it altogether and look at what we can realistically achieve, what we can work towards with partners to still provide a service yet also manage the savings we’ve got to achieve.” He added: “We are going to listen. If there weren’t some changes the consultation and review would be pointless, so yes there will be changes.”
The plans for closures and cutbacks were announced on October 1, but Mr Mawson rejected the suggestion that too little time had been allowed for communities to respond.
“We have had a whole calendar month,” he said. “If we can get a degree of progress we could save up to £1.5 million in this financial year and if we can get it in for next year we can save £4.3m in a full year.
“This is taxpayers’ money and we are guardians of the public purse. We take that responsibility seriously – that’s why I don’t want it to take months and months.”
The current proposals would mean front desks closing at Corstorphine, Craigmillar Oxgangs, Balerno, South Queensferry, Bonnyrigg, Tranent, Linlithgow, West Calder and Armadale.
In Corstorphine and Craigmillar, police points would be set up in local community hubs instead, but no alternative services were specified for the others.
Mr Mawson said active discussions were under way on finding alternatives in many of the communities affected.
He said: “Some people have come back to us and said ‘We understand why you’re doing it, but what about a surgery twice a week in a mobile police caravan or working in a library?’ He said providing alternative points of contact would not mean extra costs because savings were all focused on civilian counter staff. He said: “The police officers we’re talking about going into surgeries, this is on their beat so it doesn’t increase costs.”
Although the current review is solely about front counters, another report is expected soon on rationalising the police property portfolio, which could lead to some stations being sold. Mr Mawson said that was a separate exercise, but added that no stations keeping their front counter would be recommended for closure.
He said: “If we’re saying a front counter remains open – whether with the same or reduced opening hours – we’ve already done that work to suggest those police stations would never close down.
“We still need these buildings as places where officers go to muster, get briefed and work within the communities.
“Even if a front counter does close within a police station, we can still make appointments for members of the public who may want to report something.”
Mr Mawson rejected union claims that civilian employees who staff front counters were being “thrown on the scrapheap”, saying: “We have more station assistants wanting to leave under voluntary redundancy or early retirement than we think should go.”
He said there had been 155 applications across Scotland, but only 125 posts were earmarked to disappear.
Any closures and cuts in opening times are expected to be introduced between January and March. The next meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, which is due to receive a report on a revised closure scheme, is scheduled for December. But Mr Mawson said: “We can go to the police authority at any time. we can ask for a special meeting if necessary.”
He said they wanted a “meaningful discussion” with the authority and staff before anything was implemented.
Closing station counters ‘will see crime rise’
CLOSING police stations to the public will harm communities in West Lothian and see crime rise, it has been claimed.
Linlithgow, West Calder and Armadale are all due to lose their public counters under the controversial plans drawn up by Police Scotland. More than 37,000 people a year use the three stations.
Bruce McCallum, chair of Linlithgow community council, said there was strong local feeling.
“Linlithgow needs it,” he said. “Crime will go up if it’s taken away. This is a big town and a tourist place. You can’t just do away with the main point of contact with the police. Everyone is up in arms.”
Mr McCallum said there had been talk of having a police counter in the new civic centre being created in the former county buildings.
He added: “The building should be ready by the end of the year. If they close the desk at the police station, they should put one in the new building.”
Alan McLaughlin, chair of West Calder community council said older people would lose out if the counter closed. And he voiced fears of further cuts.
“Will we lose the police office altogether?” he asked.
Independent Armadale councillor Stuart Borrowman said the counter there had effectively closed already because the civilian member of staff had retired, but it was vital that a visible police presence was maintained and suggested an officer could be based at the community centre a couple of mornings every week.
“Many people would find that very reassuring,” he said. “They might have an issue which is not a emergency but is something they are worried about in the community and they would find that the most effective way of communicating with the police.”
John McKee, chair of Armadale community council, said: “It’s always there and in a small village that’s important. They say we can go along the road to Bathgate, but not everyone has transport.”
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the closure plans were “outrageous”.
He said: “Local people need local police provision and news that these sizeable communities in West Lothian will not have any local access to police stations really does beggar belief.
“It will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on the communities affected and beyond. West Lothian is a growing area with our population predicted to rise significantly over the next decade. The pressures on policing can only rise.”
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.”