by Angus Macleod
A Scottish think-tank has rejected demands for a single police force for Scotland and instead suggested that the country should have 32 forces rather than the present eight.
Reform Scotland, in a report issued today, says that the key to better policing in Scotyland is to give all 32 local authorities their own force.
It rejects calls for a single police force, an idea currently under consideration, claiming that decentralisation is the route to more effective and accountable policing.
The radical proposal is diametrically opposed to current demands to integrate Scotland’s eight police forces into a single entity, a move supported by Labour in Scotland.
While the SNP Government has not made a final decision, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has already said he would prefer to see the eight forces reduced to three or four. In a speech last years, Mr Salmond said he backed “bobbies before boundaries”.
But Reform Scotland says that when considering law and order, the focus should be on delivering better policing and better value for money.
In a report entitled Striking the Balance the independent think-tank says: “Reform Scotland recognises that the current structure needs to change but believes such change needs to move in the opposite direction, with more local, accountable policing, rather than a centralised service.”
Researchers for the report studied police forces in other countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, France, Switzerland and Norway.
In response to the suggestions that Scotland is too small a country with too few people for more than a single force the report points out: “There are a number of countries around the world which have far more locally accountable policing than Scotland, as well as multi-tier policing.
“For example, Spain has 1,800 municipal police forces and Belgium has 196 local forces.”
The think-tank points out that the different crime problems faced in different areas highlight the need for locally accountable police forces that have the autonomy to address these issues.
It says: “While recorded crime in Scotland is at a 32-year low, there is a sizeable minority of the public which does not have full confidence in the policing on offer in their local communities.”
Reform Scotland’s key recommendation is that boundaries are redrawn so that police force areas match those of local authorities.
The report suggests: “Already in Scotland there are two areas where this is the case – in Fife and Dumfries & Galloway.
“Linking up local authorities and policing would also lead to a clearer sense of who was in charge of policing; while 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 also says that it is not conviced by claims that a single force would either save money or lead to more effective policing in Scotland.
“The current problem with policing is not just a lack of accountability, but more spectifically a lack of local accountability,” it adds.