Scottish Police chief calls for council mergers

Chief Superintendent David O'Connor. Picture: Jane Barlow
Chief Superintendent David O'Connor. Picture: Jane Barlow
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SENIOR police officers today called for around half of Scotland’s local authorities to be scrapped to save money.

Following the merger of the eight Scottish police forces into a single national service earlier this year, the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents called for a shake-up in councils too.

Chief Superintendent David O’Connor said: “Police are undergoing a journey of reform to improve services and reduce costs. It is tough. But they cannot be expected to bear the brunt of cuts alone.

“A lot of what the police do, they do in partnership. I think there should be an open, constructive and pragmatic debate about reform of the 32 local authorities and 14 health boards. Are there too many, is there duplication of effort and cost? Can we afford not to consider reducing these numbers?

“Fewer local authorities and health boards could mean fewer senior management posts, better services and reduced costs.”

A position paper for the association’s conference, which opens in Pitlochry tomorrow, talks about the need for a “journey of reform” similar to that embarked upon by police, fire and ambulance services. It cites the 14 divisions in the new single police force, implying a model for council reduction.

Estimates suggest Police Scotland will make £39.8 million in annual savings through cutting key civilian staff as back-room functions such as human resources and IT are merged.

Mr O’Connor’s comments were condemned by critics.

David O’Neill, president of the local government umbrella body Cosla, said: “This is as absurd as it is simplistic and comes from an unelected person. He misses the point, as we work together as community planning partners, and [Finance Secretary] John Swinney has already said there will be no local government re-organisation.”

Professor Richard Kerley, who chairs independent think tank the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, said: “This is both simplistic and premature. It’s a bit like planning the victory parade while you are still limbering up for the event.

“There are not even operational budgets in place for the new police service. We have had less than two months of the police being amalgamated and while there have been no spectacular disasters yet, it is way too early to say it’s been a success and lessons have been learned.”

Police chiefs should take over responsibility for licensing if councillors cannot make tough decisions, the superintendents have urged.

They said the impact of alcohol on areas should be assessed before any new off-licences are given the go-ahead.

Mr O’Connor said: “The more outlets that there are, the more harm there can be. If licensing boards are unable to make the tough decisions about licensing of alcohol, perhaps it is time to pass such decisions to the chief constable. Licensing boards should call for more reports from agencies including the police and NHS to keep people safe.”