Police Scotland control room cuts go ahead

Police control room (generic) The restructurings are intended to save money and improve efficiency

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Proposals to cut the number of police control rooms in Scotland have been approved by the Scottish Police Authority.

The plan will see two control rooms in Aberdeen close, along with those in Stirling, Dumfries, Glenrothes and Pitt Street in Glasgow.

A total of almost 1,500 police officers and civilian staff are currently employed in the control rooms.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is to close five of its control rooms.

Both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have said there will be no compulsory redundancies.

Under the plan put forward by Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, five of the force's 11 sites will be retained.

Motherwell and Govan will now form a West Area Control centre, with Bilston Glen near Edinburgh given responsibility for the East Command Area and Dundee the North Area Command.

Analysis

The outcry in Dumfries and Galloway since it was revealed its police control room could be the first of five across Scotland to close has been significant.

Anyone in the region with access to Facebook or Twitter will almost certainly have been approached to support an online campaign for its retention.

And politicians of every hue - Lib Dem, Labour, Conservative and SNP - have called for the proposal to be ditched or delayed.

Control room staff claim promises of full consultation have proved to be empty and believe the loss of their local knowledge could cost a life.

But police say times have moved on and new technology can allow savings to be made - without any impact on the service provided.

Inverness will lose its police control room but will instead become the new hub for the command and control of major incidents and national events anywhere in the country, equipped with new communications systems.

A National Virtual Service Centre will be split between Govan, Motherwell and Bilston Glen.

But Dumfries will close in April 2014, Stirling in December 2014, Glenrothes in March 2015, Pitt Street in March 2015 and Aberdeen in December 2015.

Affected civilian staff will be offered redeployment, voluntary redundancy or early retirement, with a "phased consultation" with unions and staff to be carried out.

The control rooms deal with emergency 999 calls and calls to the non-emergency 101 number.

Police Scotland has argued the changes will reduce costs and improve efficiency, but the proposals have been politically controversial with campaigns being mounted in several areas - including Dumfries and Aberdeen - to save the local facilities.

Staff at the Dumfries police control room have said they were left "in a state of bewilderment and shock" by the proposals, and warned the removal of call handlers in the area with local knowledge could cost lives.

The 34 staff had written a joint letter to the board members and chairman of the SPA calling for a full public consultation to take place before any decision was made.

'Valuable expertise'

Following the decision, SPA chairman Vic Emery said: "Having established a single police service, it is vital that Police Scotland operates in a way that exploits the advantages and potential of that arrangement, while also retaining the valuable expertise that has been built up over many years.

"Contact, command and control is an obvious area for early consideration. What worked for the former eight forces clearly cannot be fit for purpose for one, and by starting to address that we are moving from being a single joined-up service in name to one of reality.

"The authority has thoroughly tested those proposals today. We have approved the overall direction of travel for the next two years."

He added: "We understand that for some parts of the country the impact of post reductions and relocations are a concern. I want to stress that this remains the early stages of the reform process, not the end of it.

"Our objective as an authority is to ensure that change and reform delivers service benefits for the public in all parts of Scotland, and that we improve efficiency so we live within our budget and keep policing strong and visible in our communities.

"We are reassured that this proposal is the best current way of contributing to those twin objectives."

Start Quote

In the space of five hours the network of frontline emergency control rooms around Scotland has shrunk to the central belt”

End Quote Alison McIness Scottish Lib Dems

Welcoming the SPA's decision, Ch Supt Val Thomson of Police Scotland said: "This will pave the way for full staff and union consultation which requires to take place before changes are implemented.

"Change will be implemented over the next two years and will be carefully managed to ensure continued service to the public in a critical area.

"The board's decision allows for a move to fewer sites which are more resilient and which increase our capacity to deal with demand across Scotland and capability to respond to incidents in the most effective way."

And Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "To protect our communities and save lives it's vital that our emergency services have the sophisticated systems, expertise and equipment to ensure every community across Scotland receives the highest quality of service as quickly as possible - but we have every sympathy with all of the staff affected by these changes.

"The Scottish Ambulance Service reduced control rooms from eight to three in 2004. Since then, more lives have been saved with response times for serious calls improving from 8.6 to 6.5 minutes despite a 20% rise in demand."

"The geographical location also has no impact the emergency response. The fire control room in Johnstone already covers over half of rural and urban Scotland including the islands and Gaelic speaking communities with the same level of service."

The fire service board earlier approved plans to reduce the number of control rooms, which handle emergency calls, from eight to three.

Those being lost are in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dumfries, Fife and Falkirk, while Johnstone in Renfrewshire, Edinburgh and Dundee will remain open.

Referring to closures at both of the services, Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: "I don't understand what the hurry has been in making this decision, especially given the level of concern among staff and the general public.

"We should step back and look at this again, because it's a decision we have to get right.

"Instead of sanctioning a hasty decision, the Scottish government should be assessing the impact of this and assessing a range of factors, not least the loss of local knowledge."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes described the closures as "shocking".

She added: "In the space of five hours the network of frontline emergency control rooms around Scotland has shrunk to the central belt. The needs and views of communities to the north and south of Scotland have been ignored completely."

Scottish Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said: "Consolidating all the police and fire services into single, national forces would always mean that there would be the opportunity to bring about savings.

"The announcements today may be right, but the way in which these decisions have been reached has been unacceptable.

"When decisions like this are made, it should be as a result of proper consultation and evaluation. The decisions being announced today have lacked both. Staff who have given years of service deserve so much better than this."

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