News that the Police Service of Scotland will be operational by April 2013 needs to be greeted with a high degree of scepticism, specifically as the issues concerning governance are far from resolved.
It is interesting that a former head of the Scottish Executive’s justice division should raise the spectre of a politically controlled chief constable, at the mercy of ministers in their determination of what effectiveness and efficiency looks like prior to handing over a P45. This must be a concern and clearly challenges the autonomy required to discharge a role that needs to be free from direct political interference.
As much as I have no personal concerns with the creation of a national force, given operational policing continues to be very much a local issue, I do, however, worry that the legal framework as it stands appears to place very limited control at a local authority level, where the delivery of the service takes place.
In addition, the reported safeguards to stop interference in police operations does not extend beyond that limited definition and consequently fails to reassure. I note by way of mitigation that police commanders are to form part of a local committee, required to create a policing plan and participate in community planning. This is a red herring, they already do just that and, in the main, very successfully, albeit collaboratively rather than from a legal footing.
All of this is important for Hawick and the Borders as we are never likely to be a regarded as a priority in a national context. On paper the statistics say we have relatively few crimes and a high solvency rate, but how long will that last, when valuable police resources are inevitably spirited away from the area?
We appear to be about to have a national police service, so let’s make sure that those who have a vested interested, that’s you and me, have an appropriate representative voice on any new police authority where we can practically influence the look and feel of the service as it affects us day to day.