Goodbye Grampian Police. On Monday all eight of Scotland’s regional forces were replaced by just one, Police Scotland.
Its 17,400 officers will police more than 30,000 square miles with its 5.3m people.
Stephen House is the new chief constable. He is the former head of Strathclyde Police and a former assistant commissioner with the Met. He says the new force will bring much-needed improvements. Already he has merged CID and specialist units into one crime division, with 2,000 detectives.
However there are serious concerns about the new force’s accountability, its centralisation and for the jobs of the 6,200 civilian staff.
Scottish Liberal Democrats were against the merger, arguing it was wrong in principle, rushed through to save money, and without any democratic oversight. SNP, Labour and Conservatives all backed the merger.
There is conflict too between the chief constable and the head of the new Scottish Police Authority, Vic Emery, over its power to set force budgets and personnel policy.
North East MSP Alison McInnes, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ justice spokeswoman, and said the merger endangered Scotland’s tradition of community-based policing and local accountability.
“Policy and strategy will be heavily controlled at national level, even though Scotland is a very varied, diverse country. Plans for local commanders to liaise with local councils and agree local policing plans is no substitute for direct oversight and authority.”
All eight independent police authorities, which were made up of local councillors and oversaw the previous forces, agreeing budgets and policing plans, have been scrapped. The new authority’s 13 members are appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill, who also approved Mr House’s appointment.
Alison also questions the chief constable’s decision to have armed officers on permanent patrol across the country. “That might be necessary in urban Glasgow but outside major cities the policy is alien to Scotland’s unarmed policing tradition.
“We are on a dangerous road here. With much greater control from the centre, the big decisions about what style of policing we have and what the major priorities will be set by a single police authority board, which is a group of 13 unelected people. There’s a democratic deficit now, quite clearly.”
Several departing chief constables have also been openly critical. One, Colin McKerracher, until Sunday the chief constable of Grampian, said he was “horrified” when the merger was first proposed in 2011. In his final interview with the Press & Journal last week, Mr McKerracher said he believed policing had become a “political football” at Holyrood.
“The government are saying that this new service will be locally focused,” Mr McKerracher was quoted as saying. “But the one thing that is changing is that there is no local police board able to select a chief constable and style of policing for the area. There will also be no power to hold their chief constable to account. So they are now fairly toothless policing committees.”
North Kincardine Councillor Ian Mollison said: “I look forward to hearing from local officers at the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee, but the reports will merely be a courtesy from the police. Locally elected councillors will have no authority at all. And the public have no democratic say whatsoever on how their local police force is run. It is all down to a quango appointed by one man – the Justice Secretary.”