Police cutbacks put Capital child safety teaching at risk

Pupils from Peel Primary School learn about traffic awareness in one of the specially created sets at The Risk Factory
Pupils from Peel Primary School learn about traffic awareness in one of the specially created sets at The Risk Factory
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STAFF at an education centre which provides “key safety messages” to thousands of P7 youngsters have warned a plan to axe its police coordinator will send it “down the tubes”.

Volunteers at The Risk Factory in west Edinburgh, which hosts classes for around 8500 children each year on how to avoid life-threatening danger and injury, said they were “incensed” after discovering the position of Martin Brunton – the centre’s police leader for the last five years – is to be made redundant amid a wider staffing review by Police Scotland.

It is understood Mr Brunton, 54, a serving constable for nearly 30 years before his secondment to The Risk Factory, is among a number of proposed redundancies involving other key staff in the city’s Safer Communities team.

The Evening News also understands Mr Brunton was informed by senior police officers from west Scotland that they had targeted his post because it is the only one of its kind in the country and they could not see why the Capital should benefit from a service unavailable elsewhere.

Les Smith, who assists with the centre’s safety sessions, said: “The quality of teaching will definitely go down the tubes. We’ll limp along but there’s no question there would be a downgrading.”

Funded by the city, Midlothian, East and West Lothian councils, the Risk Factory educates P7 pupils on how to avoid danger in a wide range of everyday scenarios – from roads and railway lines to electricity stations and around home appliances.

Children are taught through role play exercises in which they interact with emergency service staff, including police and firefighters.

“Because this does not happen elsewhere in Scotland, the police can’t rustle up enough money to pay this man? It’s absolutely outrageous,” said Mr Smith.

“The police will probably say there’s no need to worry and that they will send a community officer up there whenever they’re needed but that’s rubbish – an officer is needed all the time.”

Senior political figures have lined up to attack the move.

Former police constable Mike Crockart, now Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, said: “It feels like another withdrawal of Police Scotland from what is, essentially, community policing. It seems very short-sighted – this is taking an accountant’s view of policing.”

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for the Lothians, said: “I would like to discuss this issue further with Police Scotland and the city council to ensure that every step is taken to enable young people to learn first-hand from experienced members of the emergency services.”

Councillor Cammy Day, the Capital’s community safety leader, said he was “reassured” by a police commitment to consult with him before any final redundancy decision is taken. “We will, of course, be liaising closely with them going forward,” he added.

Police Scotland chiefs declined to comment on discussions with Mr Brunton and stressed their staffing review was ongoing.

Chief Superintendent Grant Manders said: “We absolutely recognise that The Risk Factory is an important facility. In addition to consulting the police staff involved, Police Scotland will enter discussions with other agencies in the partnership to determine how it could support the initiative in the future.”