Fears policing being 'placed in hands of private sector' in Old Town BID proposals

TRADERS have been told to “stay in their lane” amid fears that community policing could be handed over to private companies – as plans to set up a business improvement district (BID) in the Old Town will go to a ballot.

Monday, 16th September 2019, 4:56 pm
Original Edinburgh could pay for their own community police officer

The city council’s housing, homelessness and fair work committee approved plans for a vote by eligible traders to take place in November to determine whether an Old Town BID, Original Edinburgh, will be set up.

A business improvement district allows business communities to raise funding for activities to improve their area through a levy on non-domestic rates. Two BIDS are currently in place in the Capital – Essential Edinburgh which covers the New Town and the West End BID.

A final business plan will be drawn up and presented to Old Town businesses on October 4 – ahead of the ballot on November 28. One draft proposal is for firms to pay for a “dedicated BID police officer” as is provided by Essential Edinburgh. The city council agreed to cut £522,000 to provide community police officers in this year’s budget.

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The privately-funded police officer could help reduce anti-social behaviour and theft in the Old Town

Essential Edinburgh describes the BID cop as a “ground-breaking project” with PC Leo Baker providing a “single point of contact with law enforcement, readily available support and access to advice and training for a more secure and resilient city centre”.

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PC Baker also “coordinates Police Scotland’s involvement” in a citywide community improvement partnership for “begging and homelessness”. Green city centre Cllr Claire Miller said she has “deep reservations” about a similar BID cop being paid for by Original Edinburgh.

She said: “It’s a pretty questionable decision from Police Scotland to accept funding from a private sector organisation which is then able to direct public sector services and take that control away from the public sector.”

She added: “I was pleased to hear Original Edinburgh committing to working collaboratively with the council and local residents and tackling issues which we all agree could be improved, such as cleanliness and litter. However, I will be pushing for a firm agreement from businesses to stay in their lane. I am opposed to the control that Essential Edinburgh has over their BID cop, which removes public sector control over policing and places it in the hands of private businesses.

“This is a dangerous precedent and I am strongly against it being replicated in other areas of the city. I welcome the chance to discuss businesses’ needs with Original Edinburgh and agree appropriate business plans with them.”

Housing, homelessness and fair work convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, will meet with Police Scotland to discuss the proposals. The force declined to comment on the proposals at this early stage.

Cllr Campbell said: “Its good to see how much progress has been made and that collaboration underpins the approach.

“I was especially pleased to hear that regular consultation with residents forms part of the plans, and I’m looking forward to discussing the detail of the business plan with BID members and councillors ahead of the ballot.”

The steering group of local business leaders has been working for almost three years – starting to set out traders’ needs, priorities and ambitions. If the ballot is successful, a board of directors will be elected.

James McGregor, chairman of the Original Edinburgh steering group, said: “The purpose and remit of Original Edinburgh is very clear – providing additionality and added value, not filling gaps in public services. Our job is to propose possible solutions and opportunities to matters that the voting businesses identify, and that’s what our forthcoming business plan will set out.

“Funding additional policing resource to tackle theft and anti-social behaviour is one way that has proven to be effective in other BIDs across Scotland and the UK. However, the final decisions about how Original Edinburgh will address any of these problems will lie with a democratically elected board of directors, made up of local business leaders, in consultation with the local community and other public agencies.”