MacAskill hints at single Scottish police force

Strathclyde Police officers
Image caption The Scottish government is due to make a formal announcement on policing next week

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has given the strongest hint yet that he supports a single national police force for Scotland.

Mr MacAskill told a conference other options for change could not deliver the same benefits as a single force.

He is due to formally announce his decision on the future of policing to the Scottish parliament next week.

Critics of the reform have raised concerns about the anticipated savings and the loss of local accountability.

Mr MacAskill was speaking at an international policing summit being hosted by the Scottish government in Edinburgh.

Delegates from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Norway have been informing Scottish police and public sector representatives about their experiences of police reform, with a particular focus on arrangements for national governance.

National governance

Cosla has accused the Scottish government of bias over its choice of speakers for the event.

The umbrella body representing local authorities said delegates had been selected to fit the option of introducing a single police force in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill said the summit was taking place at a "pivotal time" for Scottish policing.

"The experiences of our international guests will help inform how new police services will work in practice," he said.

"We know that Scotland's public sector needs to reform to meet the demands of this challenging financial climate, to maintain and improve public services for communities despite substantial Westminster budget cuts.

"If we do not embrace public sector reform, then we risk allowing our public services to fail."

He added: "Concerns were raised about national governance, particularly in a single service.

"People value a police service that can exercise its duties on law enforcement free from political interference. But people also rightly emphasise the importance of democratic accountability.

"We need to get the balance right. That balance is achieved in many other countries all over the world. Today we will have been hearing from some of them on how they maintain the balance between a police service that is free to enforce the law and proper democratic oversight."

Last week Cosla held its own event on policing, giving senior officers and local government officials an opportunity to discuss reform proposals.

Cosla president Pat Watters said: "Our event was designed to be balanced by inviting participants who were both in favour of and opposed to the single-force model - we felt it imperative that we listened to the whole range of views.

"When the cabinet secretary and the government snubbed our offers of speaking opportunities, they went further in not even sending a civil servant along to listen."

Mr Watters said the government's conference was hearing from countries which have single national forces.

"Why is the government unwilling to listen to any examples from abroad of strong regional policing?" he said.

"The government's unwillingness to listen is both dispiriting and disappointing."

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