Liam Kerr SNP’s flagship policy on police numbers in tatters after key pledge dumped
“There has been a series of embarrassing call handling incidents, including one in which Aberdeen’s Great Western Road was confused with its namesake in Glasgow
It’s more than 10 years since the SNP promised 1,000 extra police officers on Scotland’s streets. The Scottish Conservatives helped secure that pledge, as we strongly believe that a greater police presence in our communities helps keep people safe.
However, this long-standing policy was unceremoniously dumped by the SNP earlier this month.
Police officer numbers have now fallen to the lowest level in nine years, below the amount the SNP said was the minimum required.
The Scottish Police Federation has said this will mean fewer patrols on our streets.
There has also been a huge reduction in the number of special constables – and there are about half as many now as there were five years ago.
This will all be deeply concerning for people in the north and north-east, where we have already seen many negative impacts from the creation of the single force.
At the time when the eight regional constabularies were merged, we were told the changes would save £1.1 billion by 2026 without affecting frontline services.
It is still not clear if those savings will be realised. Instead, we have a financial black hole of around £190 million and a force that is struggling to find ways to fill it.
Audit Scotland warned in 2014 that any savings from establishing the single force were likely to be short-term, with doubts they could be continued over a longer period of time.
It is difficult to accept Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s claims the scrapping of the pledge on officer numbers won’t have a negative impact.
Already, there is a sense among the public that the nature of local policing has changed – long gone are the days of the bobby on the beat.
I know from personal experience how reassuring it can be to see officers out on the street near my home in Aberdeen, but for many, especially those in rural communities, visible patrols are few and far between.
I’ve lost count of the number of constituents raising concerns about the distance to the nearest police station and how that could affect response times.
However, the issues go further than that. Since the creation of the single force, we have lost control rooms in Aberdeen and Inverness.
There has been a series of embarrassing call handling incidents, including one in which Aberdeen’s Great Western Road was confused with its namesake in Glasgow.
Police stations have been closed and sold off to free up much-needed funds.
There has also been a loss of local accountability with the removal of regional police boards, which provided vital oversight from elected councillors.
At the very top of Police Scotland, it has been one controversy after another.
With all of this going on, and the SNP’s flagship promise on police numbers in tatters, a lot is riding on the justice secretary. Can he steer the force through troubled waters ahead?
On the evidence of his past four years in post, many will question if he will be able to do that.
Recent coverage in the P&J has revealed another issue relating to the Aberdeen bypass that is looming large over our local councils. While motorists are eagerly awaiting the completion of the work, officials in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire are preparing for a huge bill to land on their doorstep.
The daily toll of HGV vehicles thundering around the local roads and bridges surrounding the construction site has left significant damage.
Quite simply, these minor routes were not built to cope with the weight and volume of traffic.
Local councillors have rightly pointed out that all of this will have to be fixed. The question is, who should pick up the tab?
With the overall project cost already likely to be £1.5billion, it could well be argued there should be scope within that budget for the developers and indeed the government to pay up.
After all, the damage has been caused by con- struction vehicles working on the project. It seems very unfair to expect local taxpayers to foot the bill for repairs.
Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire are already among the lowest funded councils in Scotland. I’m sure our hard-pressed local authorities would welcome some support from the SNP government on this issue.
Scotland’s police often rely on the instinctive teamwork of animals and humans to protect the population. A dog’s keen nose and the commanding presence of a police horse are key tools in the fight against crime.
But they themselves must not be considered as tools and should be protected in law.
Scotland’s laws view service animals as little more than property. Criminal damage is the only available charge for someone who attacks them – even though dogs are often bitten, kicked and strangled while in the line of duty.
Dogs like Finn. Constable Dave Wardell’s dog was stabbed in the head and chest while chasing a robbery suspect in 2016.
While the suspect was charged with actual bodily harm for his injuries to the constable, he was only charged with criminal damage for almost killing Finn.
The UK Parliament has heard much support for the Service Animals Offences Bill and I am hopeful we can protect police dogs and horses in Scotland too.
So far, 17,000 people have signed my petition to Michael Matheson.
This can be found at www.change.org/p/thescottish-parliament-protect-police-dogs
Please show your support for Finn and other service animals.