Top cop: Force is so stretched we cannot list definite times offices will be manned

Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair. Pic: Greg Macvean
Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair. Pic: Greg Macvean
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Are police counters a vital public service that needs to be preserved?

The shortage of personnel has led to the Police Scotland website no longer showing the opening hours for any public counters in the city apart from the two 24-hour stations at Gayfield and St 
Leonard’s.

Members of the public who want to visit any other station are told to dial 101 to check if it is open before they go.

Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair said the force was committed to maintaining a 24/7 service at Gayfield and St Leonard’s, but other stations now operated a “changeable opening hours system”, which reflected the staffing situation.

The move comes after the Evening News revealed in January that some stations were now closed or on restricted hours more often than they were open as advertised.

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.

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.

The Evening News campaigned four 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.

Lothians Conservative MSP Gordon Lindhurst said: “People will be deeply disappointed that there are now only two police stations left in Edinburgh with advertised opening 
times.

“People in many areas of Edinburgh could be left feeling vulnerable if their local station is not guaranteed to be open.

“The SNP government has cut local officers and staff and now we’re seeing the consequences. They must make sure Police Scotland has the resources it needs to keep us all safe.”

Chief Superintendent Blair, divisional commander for the City of Edinburgh said: “We are committed to maintaining a 24/7 service at the city’s two busiest police stations, Gayfield and St Leonard’s. The front counters at the city’s other outlying stations operates with a changeable opening hours system that reflects the staffing provision which can differ week to week. Front counter service is available at these stations. However, to ensure that the public are aware of when these stations will be open, we ask that they phone 101 to check opening times and availability.

“Any member of the public who calls at a front counter which is closed can use a designated yellow telephone to speak to our service centre, who can identify the nearest available front counter service or arrange for an officer to attend where appropriate.”

Five years ago the Evening News campaigned to save ten police stations across the Lothians earmarked for the axe.

Readers signed a petition asking the force to keep policing at the heart of the communities.

The Scottish Police Federation, meanwhile, said it was far from shocked by the revelations after repeatedly campaigning about a lack of resources.

Grant McDowall, SPF east area committee secretary said: “The SPF are disappointed to hear about the decision to restrict opening hours at some police stations across Edinburgh and the resulting impact upon service to the public, however not surprised.

“The SPF have repeatedly highlighted the lack of resources across the East of Scotland and particularly the Edinburgh area.”

Mr McDowall said officers in the Capital have unique expectations placed upon them and yet investment has been cut since forces were merged.

“It is acknowledged that the capital city of Scotland has exceptional demands placed upon it in terms of policing, yet resources have diminished since the inception of Police Scotland,” added Mr McDowall.

“Unfortunately this is another example which highlights the lack of understanding within Police Scotland and beyond in terms of the ‘true’ cost of policing in Scotland.”