by Cameron Hay
RENFREWSHIRE should have its own dedicated police force, according to a leading think tank.
Reform Scotland has rejected calls for a single Scottish force, instead suggesting that decentralisation would make policing more effective and accountable to the public.
Under the radical plans the country’s eight forces would be re-organised into 32 areas to match the current local authority set-up.
And if the plans were seen through Renfrewshire would have its own Chief Constable and the force would be divided into smaller sub-divisions based in Paisley, Johnstone and Renfrew.
Reform Scotland believes that locally-controlled policing would improve public confidence and local accountability.
Alison Payne, one of the authors of the report entitled Striking the Balance, said: “Just as there are different crime problems facing the different police forces in Scotland, there are different crime problems facing different areas within forces.
“As a result, it is important that enough freedom is given to area commanders to try out different policing methods. This also enables innovative and new policing practices to be tried out.”
She added: “As with all public services, increasing the diversity of provision can raise standards for all.
“Imposing a one-size-fits-all structure from the centre will stifle that innovation.”
The think tank said the key feature of these recommendations is the provision of local accountability and instead of one chief constable being accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, each area’s chief constable would be accountable to local councillors and ultimately the public.
Furthermore, it is suggested that this model provides the opportunity for more effective policing on a local level as it is also more transparent for councils to choose to spend more, or less, on policing their areas, as well as setting new by-laws for their police forces to enforce.
However, the proposals have received cross-party opposition from Labour MPs and nationalist politicians in both Holyrood and Renfrewshire Council.
Jim Sheridan, who is the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, fully supports his colleagues in Holyrood whose policy of moving to a single police would, they claim, cut out duplication and bureaucracy and free up officers.
The Labour politician said: “While recognising that policing is a devolved issue I have considered the report issued by Reform Scotland and I am not convinced that moving to a system whereby each local authority has, in effect, its own police force is the best way forward.
“The primary focus should be on getting more police on the beat, and so deterring and detecting crime which from my experience from speaking with constituents is what people in the local community want.”
And he is backed by Douglas Alexander, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, who said: “I am not convinced of the case for Scottish Police forces to be broken up into 32 smaller forces with all the extra beaurocracy and costs that would be involved.
“Instead, I want to see the focus on the front-line with police officers getting on with tackling those crimes that still affect our communities.”
Among the recommendations of the report is for the boundaries to be redrawn so that police force areas match those of local authorities.
Former leader of Renfrewshire Council, Derek Mackay was recently elected as the MSP for the new constituency of Renfrewshire North and West. He is also in favour of one force for Scotland.
He explained: “I’m quite comfortable with the idea of one police force for the whole country but I do believe that each divisional commander should be directly accountable to the local authority and have direct link to the public.”
And newly appointed Council Leader, Brian Lawson, told the Paisley Daily Express that the most important aspect of workable policing is the number of constables on the street rather than chief constables in offices.
He added: “In the last couple of years we have seen great success in tackling crime in Renfrewshire, in particular reaching a ten year low in crime figures. This is something the council and our partners are keen to continue. The national consultation period has now ended so we will await with interest to hear the outcomes of that.”
Despite the opposition to the radical proposals, the think tank believes that the politicians, and the Scottish Government in particular, is moving in the wrong direction with plans to centralise policing.
The author concluded: “While we agree with the need for greater centralisation and collaboration on specialist policing, we would argue that this should be done alongside greater devolution of local policing, creating proper national and local police bodies which could address both national and local problems.”