Local police stations face uncertainty

BY KEITH MACKENZIE
keith.mackenzie@whfp.co.uk

Uncertainty continues to surround the long-term future of three police stations in the west Highlands, the Free Press has learned.

Despite pledges from Police Scotland that they had no plans for station closures in the Skye and Lochalsh area, communities have been told to expect more cuts.

At their most recent meeting Applecross Community Council were told by a local officer giving a presentation that stations at Kyle, Lochcarron and Dunvegan would all close in the coming years.
Only last month Police Scotland unveiled plans to withdraw funding for local traffic wardens, and to shut public counter services at dozens of Scottish police stations – among them Mallaig, Ullapool and Benbecula.

In the same review the force said there would be no change to the opening hours at Portree and Kyle police stations, both of which were to be classified as category D stations open from 9am until 5pm Monday to Friday.

In a brief statement this week Police Scotland would only say that their estate remained under review. A spokesman said: “While the Police Scotland estate footprint is under constant review, there are no planned station closures in the Skye, Lochaber and Lochalsh areas.”

Applecross community council member Alison Macleod said the group were grateful to have been told to expect closures, as the information would give communities the chance to ready themselves in opposition.

The suggestion of further station closures comes in the same week that the Government’s public spending watchdog issued a report questioning the financial strategy of the newly-created single Scottish police force.

The government have said police reform will save £1.1 billion by 2026, but the report by Audit Scotland said it was not clear how these savings would be achieved. The watchdog have urged the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to finalise and agree a financial strategy with detailed savings plans by the end of March 2014.

The Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, said: “The creation of a single police service has been one of the biggest reforms in Scotland’s public sector. Much was achieved over a short timeframe and front-line operations were maintained throughout. However, a lack of good information in non-operational areas like finance and staffing, and differing views on how the new arrangements would work in practice, affected planning for the move to a single police service.

“The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland will find it challenging to deliver the savings expected by these reforms. There are a number of reasons for this, including limited flexibility with police officer and staff numbers. They need to urgently agree a long-term financial strategy and savings plans.”
The Scottish Police authority budget for 2013-14 is set at £1.1 billion, and savings of £64 million are expected to be made over the same period.

Amid the murmurs of further savings, it has also emerged that officers in Fife had enlisted the help of a cardboard cut-out policeman in a bid to deter speeding motorists. It is not yet clear whether similar sights will be seen across the north in the coming years.