Keep policing local

Green MSP, Alison Johnstone on why centralisation of police services needs to be challenged.

Ten communities across the Lothians are to lose access to their local police stations and many other stations will reduce their opening hours. I’m backing the Save Our Stations campaign because it doesn’t make sense to take away these links between the public and local policing.

The research used by Police Scotland on the number of people using these police stations fails to make the case for their closure. Hundreds of people walk into stations in places such as Oxgangs, Balerno and Linlithgow each week to report crimes, request a police officer or make enquires, but Police Scotland doesn’t class these as “core demands”.

Of course there are other ways to contact the police but having an actual door you can walk through is reassuring. When the law was changed to merge regional police forces – a move Green MSPs voted against – the ­Scottish Government said it was necessary to make savings to protect frontline services. I think my ­constituents would imagine that access to a simple police desk counts as a ­frontline service.

This month we also learnt of Fire Scotland’s plan to close five of its eight regional control centres, including the one based at the heart of our city in Tollcross.

These centres are where emergency calls are managed. They are run by highly-trained staff with detailed local knowledge built up over many years of service, which makes all the difference when handling emergency responses. I visited the control room last week and met with staff who described the plan as “redundancy by relocation”. As many have children at school and relatives here in Edinburgh, moving to another city is unlikely to be an option for them. The outcry over these plans means they are now being consulted on and I will be arguing for the ­survival of Edinburgh’s control centre.

This is all part of a bigger problem of centralisation that needs tackling before it gets worse. In the minds of the managers, bigger is always better and plans are justified in terms of “efficiency savings. Green thinking tends to be the opposite way round – smaller units work better for local priorities. In the six months since the single police and fire services were created we have seen a worrying number of top-down approaches to local ­problems and attacks on the levels of services and jobs in our communities.

Within weeks of the new police force’s launch, the city council was forced to strongly rebut the heavy-handed action taken by Police Scotland when officers raided the capital’s saunas. I’m very open to the debate on the best way to deal with the sex trade but ­currently there is an Edinburgh-­specific approach and this can’t just be trampled on by the new regime.

Then in September there was the suggestion that the police might take a tougher stance on alcohol in public spaces along the lines of Glasgow’s outright ban. Again, there is a debate here (a beer on the Meadows being quite different from serious anti-social behaviour) but it has to ­happen locally. The council is also reducing its own funding for community ­policing as they now have little say on how that resource is used.

The top management of both ­services need to rethink these ­depressing closure plans and reassure Lothian residents that local priorities still come first.