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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Kenny MacAskill Looks Abroad For A Case For Single Police Force

Kenny MacAskill has outlined the case for a single police force in the face of opposition from councils and some parts of the service across Scotland.

Kenny MacAskill: ‘We will not attack pay and conditions'.

The justice secretary told a conference of police leaders from this country and across Europe that the alternative to reform was to "jettison" officers and slash their pay and conditions.

The International Policing Summit was held yesterday to hear from other countries that have faced reform, or are going through it now.

Representatives from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all spoke about the benefits and problems of restructuring.

It followed a conference held by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) last week as part of its campaign against a single force.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has also voted against a national structure, while superintendents have backed it and chief officers have been split.

However, Mr MacAskill, who is expected to spell out the timetable for the creation of a single force following an announcement on 7 September, said it would provide "greater benefits" which other options for change do not deliver, and he was "convinced" the case had strengthened following debate over the summer.

"I can't expect people to do more with less, or the same with less, but less there will be," he said. "The way to deal with that is to change the way we do things, to do away with any unnecessary costs."

Referring to proposed changes in England and Wales, Mr MacAskill added: "We will not see officers jettisoned. We will not attack the pay and conditions of those whose service we rely on.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is the alternative."

There were plenty of warnings from representatives of countries further along the path of police reform than Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, a huge number of watchdogs had meant the national police force had at times found itself more interested in "measuring and not on delivering", Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said.

Denmark found that reform made policing better, but not cheaper as it had hoped.

Norway - whose experience Denmark had tried to learn from - said hopes that it would deliver more uniformed officers on the streets never became a reality.

In Finland - which already had a national force, but reduced the number of districts while also creating a national board - local councillors lost all say in the way policing in their communities was delivered, although Senior Officer Konsta Korhonen told the conference this had not been seen as a bad thing.

In fact, he added, Finland had one of the highest rates of police satisfaction in the world.

Deputy Chief Inspector Simon O'Brien, of the Garda Siochána Inspectorate, warned a robust external inspector would be essential to the success of a single police force.

However, none of the delegates warned Scotland against the expected moved to a national structure.

Cosla criticised the Scottish Government for not inviting delegates from countries with strong regional policing models.

Cosla president Pat Watters said: "Why is the government unwilling to listen to any examples from abroad of strong regional policing?

"The government's unwillingness to listen is both dispiriting and disappointing - one police quango, one fire quango, one view allowed, one theme emerging - a government that, certainly on this issue, will not listen.

"It seems that the government does believe that it has a mono-poly on wisdom after all."

Alison McInnes, the Scottish Liberal Democrats' justice spokeswoman, who was in the audience, said outside the conference: "These flawed plans will only erode local accountability and community decision- making."

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has been divided on whether there should be a single force, with Colin McKerracher of Grampian, and Ian Latimer, who retired this year from Northern, being vocal in their opposition.

However, Kevin Smith of Central said he was convinced that restructuring the police force in Scotland "would not break it".

He added: "There are many, many positive things that will be achieved by a single service."

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, Scotland's most senior public prosecutor, said "certain safeguards" would need to be part of any new police structure.

He warned the police must work "for reasons of public justice" and "not to create tabloid headlines or serve the interests of the political party in power".

"Independence is crucial and should be incorporated in law," he added.

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