Saturday, 4 June 2011

Police Reform - More local not less

Those political anoraks among you will remember the stooshie about police reform during the Scottish Parliamentary election. Indeed the Scottish Lib Dem's very own cack-handed Party Political Broadcast seemed to talk of nothing but the future of Scotland's police force. Although it didn't seem to register with voters as that big an issue, the Lib Dems were very keen to set themselves apart from the other parties who backed a single, central Scottish Police force. The proposal was condemned by the Scottish Police Federation and has been viewed as unaccountable and unnecessary by those outside of the political establishment.

It is comforting to see a report published by Reform Scotland which slams the idea of a single force in favour of a much more locally focussed alternative. The report suggests that a single force "accountable" to the Justice secretary would completely ignore the variation in the rates and natures of crime across the country and that, contrary to SNP claims, it wouldn't even lead to long-term efficiency savings:
"There is no particular reason to believe that one police force would deliver cost savings from economies of scale. While it may be possible to save some chief constable salaries, it is just as likely that additional and more complex management structures would be required. Administration efficiencies may be possible, but these could also be achieved by sharing services and do not require the creation of a single force." (Page 26)
The report instead suggests that it would be better to change the existing 8-force system into a 32-force system which brings police forces back into alignment with current local council boundaries, rather than reflecting the old regions. It advocates budgetary and administrative responsibility resting with Chief Constables in local authorities rather than at the centre, which would improve local accountability and help to ensure that the perception of crime follows the downward trend of actual crime rates:
More local and accountable police forces that match local authority boundaries are more likely to lead to cost savings. The police forces would be accountable for their spending as well as their effectiveness, putting downward pressure on costs; smaller organisations would require fewer layers of management; and there would be opportunities to deliver efficiency savings in costs by sharing administrative and support services. These could involve groups of police forces and/ or other public sector organisations (including local authorities) with which the forces would share boundaries. (Page 26)
The report cites a number of systems in other countries, particularly in Norway and in Belgium, where devolving power to more local levels has produced efficient, locally trusted and effective law enforcement. The Scottish Government has said they will include the findings in their consultation. Let's hope common sense prevails and the SNP dump the absurd idea of centralised policing. Instead, let's make sure the regional discrepancies in the type and prevalence of crime are reflected in the allocation of resources through decisions made by people who are directly confronted with the problems on the ground.

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