At the end of last week, I submitted my official response to Police Scotland’s consultation on changes to public counter provision across the country.
The proposed changes, announced by Police Scotland in October, would impact on stations across the Lothian region. In all, it has been proposed that eight stations would to close their public counter service, effectively closing these stations to members of the public.
Meanwhile. five public counters will have their hours cut, seven will remain unchanged and two are to be delivered as a shared service. Across the region, only two stations, in Livingston and Dalkeith, will see their public counter hours increased.
Since the proposals were announced, I have been in touch with a number of community councils to highlight the proposals and seek their views. I have also had the opportunity to discuss the proposals with Police officers in charge of some of the stations affected.
The feedback I have received helped inform the points I made in my submission.
Local access to police is a central theme. Just last year, consultation was conducted to help inform the preparation of Edinburgh’s local policing plan setting out the priorities for the city. Surely such big changes to public counter provision should have been included in this process given the value that people place on access to the police in their communities.
I believe that the analysis conducted by Police Scotland to justify their proposals failed to take account of this value. To take one example, of 263 enquiries recorded at Balerno police station during a 1o-day observation period, 256 were discounted due to not being core functions – police activities that can only be conducted at police stations such as the registration of sex offenders, examination of driving documents and receipt of found property.
If there were only seven enquiries over 10 days that would be one thing but the approach taken by the Police dismisses the fact that, despite other options such as the 101 service being available, over 250 people chose to report their business directly at the station. This public demand for the service cannot easily be ignored.
Considering specific proposals, my submission highlighted concerns over reduced provision in Edinburgh city centre to deal with issues related to the night-time economy of restaurants, bars and clubs and to deal with large numbers of tourist related enquiries.
I highlighted concerns over the lack of detail on proposed shared services at Corstorphine and raised particular concerns for those areas where the loss of a public counter service would lead to geographical isolation, creating a physical barrier to access to the police. For places like South Queensferry and Balerno the nearest police station is some distance away with lengthy public transport routes. In South Queensferry for example, the policy cuts right across the Scottish Government’s Town Centre First policy which aims to keep our town centres vibrant by using public services and retailing to act as drivers to keep our town centres alive.
Ultimately, I believe these proposals are not about improving policing but about saving money. Last week Audit Scotland estimated that savings of over £60m would have to be made in each of the next two years. The report found that planning for a move to a single police force has been hampered by difficult relationships between the Government, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland and that there is no clear strategy showing how savings will be achieved.
Taken as a whole, I have real concerns that the proposals for public counters represent a scaling back of local access to community policing and that this has been done with no consideration of the impact this will have on access to police services in Scotland. Last year there was consultation on policing in Edinburgh, but these plans to reduce access to police stations were not mentioned. How we as citizens access police services is as important as giving our views on what priorities we think need to underpin policing.