By Cameron Brooks
Scotland should have 32 police forces to better serve communities with special problems and challenges, it has been claimed.
The radical proposal comes from independent think-tank Reform Scotland, which claims the key to better policing is to give every local council area its own force.
It said the model would enable officers to address issues in the most appropriate way for the communities they served, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach directed from the central belt. The plans, which call for the appointment of 32 chief constables accountable to local councillors, is diametrically opposed to current demands, backed by Labour and the Conservatives, to integrate Scotland’s eight police forces into a single entity.
Reform Scotland’s proposals are outlined in a report published today called Striking the Balance.
The group said: “We recognise that the current structure needs to change, but believe such change needs to move in the opposite direction with more local, accountable policing, rather than a centralised service.
“Linking up local authorities and policing would also lead to a clearer sense of who was in charge of policing.
“The local chief constable would have operational responsibility, a local politician would have political responsibility, just as is the case for education, housing and a number of other local services.”
Reform Scotland said that the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency should be strengthened so it could deal more effectively with national policing priorities, while also playing a co-ordinating and supporting role.
The Liberal Democrats oppose a single police force but the Scottish Government has yet to state its position. However, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said the present structure is no longer tenable.
Barbara Grant, community saftey spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said she had yet to be convinced that a single police board was the way forward.
“Reform Scotland helpfully highlight a structural option that may well do that but is not currently being considered meaningfully, and there are others,” she said.
Northern Board convenor Norman MacLeod, who is opposed to a single force, said he would not support 32 separate boards either.
“The current set-up of the Northern Joint Police Board consists of four constituent authorities, Highland, Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney, and works extremely well,” he said.
Grampian Joint Police Board convener Martin Greig said there was merit in considering the proposal but stressed that a change in force structures “should only happen if there is demonstrated need and benefits.”
Cliff Anderson, general secretary of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said his organisation was awaiting the outcome of a public consultation on the future shape of Scottish policing before stating a position.
A Scottish Government spokesman said no decisions had been taken on reform and the consultation responses, which would assist the decision-making process, would be published shortly.