Friday, June 01, 2012

Salmond refuses to guarantee future of local emergency control rooms

At First Minister's Questions yesterday, Alex Salmond chose to make a couple of  cheap gags at the Liberal Democrats' expense rather than actually answer the question that was put to him.

He basically refused to guarantee that local police and fire emergency control rooms would not close as a result of the SNP's power grab to centralise both services. 

Here's the exchange in full.

Willie Rennie: This week, the First Minister’s bulldozer came charging back out of the garage. This time, it was the Justice Committee ramming through police centralisation and crushing amendment after amendment. What is next in the bulldozer’s path? Perhaps it will be emergency control rooms. Can the First Minister guarantee that he will not close local police and fire emergency control rooms?

The First Minister: I am still trying to work out the bulldozer thing. The most recent bulldozer, I suppose, was during the Scottish local government elections. If I remember correctly, Liberal Democrats the length and breadth of the country, as they did in last year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, made this the centrepoint of their campaign, spreading gloom, doom and despondency around Scotland and saying that central Scottish police and fire services will not work for local communities. The only unfortunate thing—the only bulldozer in operation—was the bulldozer that the Scottish people lumped over the Liberal Democrats.

Willie Rennie: So I get no answer—absolutely no answer. The First Minister stood there before, boasting about the big numbers that his centralisation plans will save. We should not forget that, in his own consultation, his plans were rejected by two to one. He should not give me any of that tosh about the public supporting his plans for centralisation. The truth is that his changes will cost money, not save it, which is why the control rooms are under threat. People at the Scottish Police Federation think that emergency control rooms will close. Only a couple of weeks ago, a chief fire officer told Radio Scotland that he believed that closures were on the way. When will the decision be made? People rely on control rooms at Thornton, Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen, Govan and many more places. When will they be told their fate?

The First Minister: The programme for police and fire reform continues according to the timetable. We have made the point that we think that within the Scottish structure we can improve local accountability. 

I was struck by Willie Rennie’s mention of the situation north and south of the border. The difference between Scotland and England is this: in Scotland, police numbers are increasing—they are 1,000 up on what they were in 2007—whereas in England, police numbers are collapsing, thanks to the policies of the Tory and Liberal Administration. Of course, that is reflected in the respect that is shown by the police federations in both countries. When Kenny MacAskill, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, went to the Scottish Police Federation in the past few weeks, he got a standing ovation. When Theresa May, as the Home Secretary and representative of the Liberal and Conservative Government, went to the Police Federation of England and Wales, she got a slow handclap. That is the difference between the confidence that the forces in Scotland have in our policies and the total lack of confidence that the forces in England have in the Tory-Liberal coalition.

Afterwards, Willie Rennie said:
The First Minister refused to commit a long term guarantee that local 999 call centres will not close on the SNP government’s watch.  These are services which rely on local knowledge which will be lost if the SNP choose to merge emergency call centres in Scotland. The Police Federation believes that emergency rooms will close. The Chief Fire officer believes closures are on the way. If the First Minister cannot confirm that no 999 call centres will be closed, then we are right to think that the endgame can only be closure of local 999 call centres. The First Minster cannot simply sweep this information under the carpet. He cannot afford to be passive. There are communities with real concerns, who are all asking the SNP government to guarantee that there will be no closures to local 999 call centres. “If it isn’t going to happen, why won’t the First Minister just say so?
 The whole centralisation has been conducted with maximum sleekitness by the SNP as I wrote last August. They looked like they were going with a single police force in the months ahead of the Holyrood election. Then their manifesto was very wolly-worded and the line that was put about by Kenny MacAskill was that the current 8 Police Forces would be cut to 3 or 4. Three months in with an overall majority, they finally opt for the single force option. You can't say that policing needs are the same in Glasgow, Helmsdale and Elgin and to put them under the control of one chief constable is ridiculous. 

If you want to support Willie Rennie and the Liberal Democrats' campaign to keep policing local, you can do so here. And join the Facebook page here for more information. 

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