Police Scotland: The way forward for British Policing?

Police_CrestToday, Monday 1st April 2013, sees the formal start of the new Police Service of Scotland. This day effectively brings to end the history of eight separate regional police forces in Scotland but what of the future for policing, both in Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom?

From a purely nostalgic viewpoint, I would say it’s partly a sad day for policing, especially for those who serve (or have served) in any of those constituent police forces being disbanded. Led by one Chief Constable for the whole of Scotland, the service will be accountable to a single Scottish Police Authority.

But these should also be seen as exciting, productive and (hopefully) more cost-effective times for Scottish policing and the taxpayer. A time which heralds the beginning of an even more efficient police service for the population of Scotland.

The establishment of a single police service will safeguard Scotland’s excellent local policing from cuts, while also ensuring all parts of the country have access to specialist equipment and expertise…(scotland.gov.uk)

Map showing former regional police forces of Scotland
Former regional police force areas of Scotland

The eight former regional police forces being replaced by Police Scotland are:-

  1. Central Scotland Police
  2. Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary
  3. Fife Constabulary
  4. Grampian Police
  5. Lothian & Borders Police
  6. Northern Constabulary
  7. Strathclyde Police
  8. Tayside Police

The creation of a single National police force (full legal name – The Police Service of Scotland) was brought about by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. That legislation also paved the way for a single Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to join the already established Scottish Ambulance Service.

The idea behind establishing a single service is “to ensure more equal access to national and specialist services and expertise.” Resources such as major investigation teams, firearms teams and marine units etc are expensive functions to maintain, especially for smaller police forces with limited finances.

Police Scotland
Image Credit http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk

Back in January this year The Daily Record spoke with Stephen House, the new Chief Constable of Police Scotland (see here).

He was talking about the formation of a new National Roads Policing Unit for Scotland and said; “the performance of Scottish forces on road safety is very strong already and all we are doing is trying to make it that bit more efficient, that bit more focused, but certainly more local through divisional units.”

The ‘visionary’ claims may well be based a little upon corporate PR however; isn’t that what we all want from our police – efficiency that is focused upon on our society’s problems and issues, one that deals with them effectively in an accountable manner?

The provision of a single force should help these specialist resources be available to all, whenever and wherever they are needed and (partly) irrespective of any ongoing equipment and training cost implications. That has to be something of a win win situation from an operational perspective. There are also some serious cost-saving implications on the policing budget which in turn, has to be good for the taxpayer.

Regular visitors will already know that I don’t subscribe to the Scottish Independence proposals (see Here) which is another matter however; I’ve long been an advocate for some (if not total), rationalisation of policing south of the border. I first wrote about the operational possibilities of police mergers for England back in 2010 (see here). My thoughts are still broadly similar in that; it makes little or no sense, from an operational or financial viewpoint, to have 40+ separate police forces in England and Wales.

But this view isn’t just mine and it certainly isn’t new. The subject of police force mergers has been rambling on for decades now. Back in 1981, James Anderton, the then Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police called for 10 regional police forces for England and Wales, one for each region that would eventually be adopted as Government Office Regions.

That could have been a sensible start to a process, eventually over time resulting in a National Police Force, but it never happened. Are we really that much further forward in the ‘visions’ for rationalisation of services, functions and policing expectations than we were 30+ years ago? In real terms, probably not.

There was too much parochialism from self-interested police chiefs, that and the inherent pompous fear from police authorities across the land, who all believed they would lose control of ‘their’ police. What both sets of antagonists against those proposals tended to forget, and often mischievously sought to combat against is the fact; it’s not their bloody police service, it belongs to the people and our society.

In recent years there have (thankfully in my opinion) been some key players influencing the police service we have now, and will have in the future.  Bernard Rix to name just one, although I don’t necessarily agree with all their views but at least they are engaged in the process. Perhaps some from within the service would do well if they were a little less insular and fixated in their views on how policing in the UK should develop?

Back in November 2011, just before the elections for Police & Crime Commissioners, the much maligned think tank Policy Exchange UK (seen by many as horsemen of the apocalypse for policing), at least tried to progress the debate about what our police service should look in the future. 

Policing 2020: …The police leaders of tomorrow will need to prepare for the type of society that will exist in 2020, and adapt to what that will mean for the policing mission and responsibilities, as well as how those services are delivered….(policyexchange.org.uk)

For those who are interested, the full report Policing in 2020 can be downloaded HERE (pdf 30Mb) and the video clip below outlines the policing ‘vision’ that was delivered by some people involved in the debate and subsequent report on the future of British policing.

But back to Scotland… Despite the unfortunate choice of date for Police Scotland to be born, all be it a necessary requirement to coincide with the changing fiscal year – Scotland and Northern Ireland with the PSNI before it will quickly show; creation of a National Police Force does not automatically mean loss of local control or public accountability in policing. Neither does it mean that we’re developing a bloody police state, as some less than knowledgable commentators have suggested in the past.

In my opinion there are still far more advantages than disadvantages to a National Police Force for each constituent country forming part of the United Kingdom.

English: Motorcycle police in Gorgie Road, Edi...

The opportunities for enhanced operational capability, coupled with all the financial advantages created by economies of scale (which alone is so important during the current budgetary constraints) should outweigh the (mostly unfounded) grumbles of the nay-sayers. A National Force for England could enhance the policing service that our society deserves but sadly often fails to receive, it’s just a pity there’s no political will to create one.

To all the officers of Police Scotland: Good luck as you embark on your new journey serving the people of Scotland and my the future reflect the proud records and history of your past. As you strive to remain Always Watchful – Stay safe!

9 thoughts on “Police Scotland: The way forward for British Policing?

  1. Lest it be forgotten, especially in the case of Scottish policing…this road has been trod before, as have all the arguments for and against it.

    In recent history, from some knowledge, and from some half forgotten memories – a number of forces, among them the “great and mighty” Glasgow Police were stood down and merged into Strathclyde Police – that merger, in 1975 took in I think, eight previously disparate forces, and a number of advanced for the time divisions within. I believe around a similar time the Midlands also saw a commoning of their police service into what is now West Midlands Police – prior to (I think) 1974 – also being several different forces, Birmingham City, Wolverhampton, Coventry, and others among them.

    My honest view is that acountability and politics need to be two separate things – and that if anything will be the hamstring that breaks where Police Scotland is concerned.

    Very much enjoying your blog, though 🙂


  2. We are always told that we are employed by the Met not whichever one of the 32 boroughs that we happen to be posted to at the time.Both of my moves,although annoying,were within south-east London.


  3. Excellent point which highlights more of what is wrong about the job. Any regionalisation or nationalisation should take account of officer welfare issues such as this. It shouldn’t just be about saving money, it should also provide the opportunity to put right a lot of the things that remain badly wrong in the service, such as officer rights and welfare. Personally, while it seems to make sense for many reasons, I can’t see the current hirrarchy giving up their fiefdoms as the Scots Chiefs have.


  4. Can I ask a serious question? With a single force what’s to stop a spiteful senior officer sending a problem PC from Glasgow to John O Groats? I’m in the Met and have been compulsory transferred twice,but the distances are nothing like in Scotland.


    1. Steve got in before me (see below) and raises some relevent issues. However, to try and answer your question; a Chief officer does have a right per se to post his/her officers wherever he/she chooses for reasons of ‘operational efficency’

      I may be wrong but, assuming your personal postings were within the same Borough, and I agree, the “distances are nothing like Scotland” the distances involved with your example dictate vastly different ‘welfare’ issues to be considered here.

      Even if your postings had been inter-Borough, the Metroploitan police area covers a meer c620sq miles, a relatively small geographical size compared to say my old force area of North Yorkshire, covering around 3,103 square miles. Enforced inter-area (borough) moves were rarely an issue. The Met also benefits from far better transport links than many other force areas in the country.

      Today, given the greater need to consider and take account of officer ‘welfare’ issues, I would expect any Chief officer to have great difficulty in justifying the kind of move you suggested, even for purely operational reasons.


  5. A few highlights from the same reports above…
    *From 1997 through to 2010, ACPO and SMT ranks increased by 16%
    *Basic salaries alone for these ranks cost in excess of £230million
    *Perks for these officers, bonuses, luxury vehicles etc amounted to millions more
    *Over the same period, the constable rank increased by only 11%
    *Hence our strapline “Too Many Chiefs” – Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, so don’t expect too much movement instigated by Chief Officers whose future may be in doubt.
    *43 police forces have £1.2billion in “rainy day” reserves – it’s pouring down now chaps, use some of it please.
    *STOP the scandal of paying £2.2million (2009/10) in Chief Officer bonuses
    *STOP Chief and Senior Officers “Cooking the books” of crime statistics and detections. The game is up. We know the “Gaming” strategies that have been employed to reflect decreased crime and increased detections and that many have received thousands in bonus payments as a result. This practice serves no-one and only results in false efficiencies that impact on the budgets allocated. It is deceiving the tax paying public and infuriating the officers you force to implement such strategies. Bonuses paid on this basis are devisive and massively erode public and rank and file confidence. Fudged stats play a large part in the political ammunition for further cuts. STOP IT NOW.
    *Of the 134,000 or so warranted officers, only 11% are publicly visible. Internal roles must be scrutinised to asses the true value they provide, and if what contribution they make to the fundamentals of policing and the Government objective of “Cutting Crime”.
    *80,000 police staff and 16,900 PCSO’s cost around £2.6billion and 484million respectively.
    *Whilst well intended & undoubtedly there are some good people in the roles, there are many more I see that I wouldn’t employ in any capacity. Overall I struggle to see the value of their contribution, other than the 000’s of pond notices that further fiddle the figures.
    *Cut these areas first before the essential rank and file officers.
    But is anyone listening?


  6. Sorry Dave, the saving forecast for total mergers is £2.25billion not £10.8. Still, what’s a billion here or there as long as the Chief Officers can protect their empires? Oops, how cynical of me!


  7. Excellent post Dave! As you know, I have advocated regional or national force structures for quite a few years. I did a fair bit of work on the subject for a couple of reports in an effort to demonstrate that frontline cuts weren’t necessary, that there were other, far simpler solutions. Sherbet Herbert announced that annual cuts of £125 million were needed. Chief Officers couldn’t see past the “88% of costs are people” argument, hence chose staffing cuts
    as the only solution. In my report, I highlighted alternatives, yes they include some staff cuts but nowhere near the extremes we have seen these ‘fools with our money’ go to.


    The 43-force structure creates a substantial amount of waste, both through inefficiencies created by localised expenditure that would best be done regionally, and by duplicating expenditure which would best take place at a national level. It is clear that there is huge potential for savings to be made. The current structure creates endemic waste by failing to provide centralised services where they are appropriate, and refusing to hand power to BCU Commanders where decisions are best made locally.

    In another report I did that we discussed, we looked at more detailed ways of saving in the long term. The HMIC even conceded that nationalising the service would save £10.8billion over ten years.

    Click to access TooManyPoliceChiefs%202010.pdf

    43 Fiefdoms Resist Action

    Denuded of a real connection with the electorate and stymied by edicts from the Home Office, police chiefs have sought to exert influence over the aspects of policing that are under their control. The reduction in the number of police forces from 123 in 1964 to 43 today has, by definition, concentrated more power in the hands of fewer people. The role was also strengthened through the 1994 Police and Magistrates Court Act and the 1996 Police Act. Through these Acts the size of police authorities governing local police forces was reduced from 35 members to 17. The Acts also abolished elections to Police Authorities and gave Chief Constables control over police budgets.

    Present & past Chiefs of 43 forces have successfully deluded politicians that force mergers on a regional or national level won’t work. However, they are not the right people to draw that conclusion, as intrinsically & financially motivated as they are to keep things as they are. The separate creation of the PCC’s has made matters worse. Now we have 43 commissioners who would refute the suggestion of regionalisation too. Ironic considering the poor public support for the idea.

    There will always be the nay sayers who will provide 1001 reasons why something won’t work. What is needed is a change of mindset to “let’s make it happen”.

    “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right!” ~Henry Ford
    “We cannot solve our problems with the same (Chief Constables) thinking we used when we created them”. (Adapted buy me!)
    Albert Einstein

    And one of my own… “Those who think they can’t should get out of the way of those who think they can.”

    Will anyone with the vision to see sense and the courage to take action please stand up!
    Kind regards
    Thin Blue Line


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