Liam Kerr SNP’s flag­ship pol­icy on po­lice num­bers in tat­ters af­ter key pledge dumped

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FEATURES -

“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.

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