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April 2013 set for single police and fire services

21 February 12 16:06
Police officers

Single forces for Scotland's police and fire services are expected to begin operating on 1 April next year.

The new interim police HQ will at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan in Fife and the unitary fire HQ will be at Perth Community Fire Station.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said communities would remain at the heart of the services.

The news came on the day the matter was discussed by Holyrood's local government and regeneration committee.

It has been hearing evidence from president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), Chief Constable Kevin Smith, as well as the Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland and the Scottish Police Services Authority.

MSPs have been looking at draft legislation, focusing on its potential impact on local democracy.

The Scottish Government's Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill will establish single forces for both the police and fire services.

There are currently eight police forces - Central Scotland Police, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, Fife Constabulary, Grampian Police, Lothian and Borders Police, Northern Constabulary, Strathclyde Police and Tayside Police.

Mr Smith said a lot needed to be done in the next year to "make the change necessary to have the new structure in place".

He added: "Reform will not stop on the first day of the new organisation and the service will continue to take shape over the next five years to ensure it's fit for purpose and makes the savings which are required in a challenging financial landscape.

"All of this work is taking place at the same time as we continue to deliver high levels of performance. We cannot, and will not, take our eye off the ball in delivering business as usual.

"Our people are what make the police service tick. As we go through reform, leadership across the service will be important to make sure the Police Service of Scotland is delivered and that visible and responsive policing to communities continues at a high level."

Mr Smith said that using Tulliallan as an interim police command base would offer a "practical and pragmatic" solution.

The Chief Fire Officers Association welcomed the announcement that Perth Community Fire Station would be the interim HQ for the single fire service.

'Major issues'

Its chairman, Alex Clark, said: "On behalf of all Scottish Fire and Rescue personnel, I'd like to reassure the public that wherever we are based, our communities can continue to expect the same high quality service."

The union Unison said a number of "major issues" continued to concern its members about the police reforms, but it was happy to continue a dialogue to resolve those issues.

Unison's Dave Watson said: "We believe that a balanced workforce is needed to provide the best service for communities throughout the country with highly-skilled police staff in a wide range of specialist roles playing a full part in the future of policing."

MSPs sitting on the local government and regeneration committee want to know what a single police force and a single fire service would mean for councils, police boards, community planning and jobs.

Mr MacAskill said he welcomed the decision of the services to base their leadership teams in Fife and Perth.

He added: "The final decision on where headquarters will be based will, of course, be a matter for the new Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. However, I would expect the various support services to be based in locations around the country.

"Both of these locations are suitable as convenient, cost-effective, flexible venues for the new leadership to lead a smooth transition and ensure communities across Scotland continue to experience excellent police and fire and rescue services.

"Importantly, neither of the locations are current headquarters, and this will help ensure that there is no disruption to the public or to senior officers during the transition to the new services."

SNP government plans to put a single police force and a single fire service in place over the next thirteen months could mean more jobs lost and fewer savings for the public purse, Scottish Labour warned today.

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald warned that the "frantic rush" to meet Mr MacAskill's "artificial deadline" could mean thousands of valuable posts cut and far fewer savings than "if the job was done properly".

He said: "Our police and fire services are far too important to be subject to short-term political fixes.

"Ministers need to explain why they are proposing the structures outlined in the bill, with no period for transition from eight forces to one and no shadow authorities to manage the change.

"So far, with no explanations offered, the jury is out on whether the target date of 1 April 2013 can really be delivered."

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont welcomed the single police force being implemented quickly.

However, he said, there were major concerns over accountability as local police boards would be abolished.

He said: "The boards are being replaced by talking shop committees whereby police commanders will merely tell councillors what they are doing, instead of allowing direct scrutiny.

"This is clearly not adequate and that is why Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for locally elected police commissioners."

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