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!