Police Consultation on the Future of Public Service Counters : Speech to Dundee City Council Policy and Resources Committee

Lesley Brennan

18 November 2013

The Committee is asked to agree that Dundee City Council writes to the Police Scotland Local Commander to seek assurance that future consultations - and future significant changes including service curtailment - concerning or connected to the policing in Dundee will be formally discussed at the Policy and Resources Committee (Police, Fire and Community Safety) during the consultation period.

The 29 of us do our best to represent our communities and policing is an important component of this.

It is important that there is true accountability.

We need to ask challenging questions.

We need to probe for more information.

We need to ensure that this new arrangement is accountable.

I expect you, like me, have a good working relationship with local police officers.

We need to scrutinise the plans and actions to support the officers and staff who support our communities.

Police officers are an integral part of the community team, who work effectively with our Council officers especially with respect to anti-social behaviour. 

Thus, it is important that issues impacted on service delivery are scrutinised at this Committee. 

Moreover, the local policing plan states:

“In Dundee City, the main body which scrutinises police performance, plans and operational activity and through which the police are accountable is the Policy and Resource Committee of Dundee City Council.”

So, it does almost begs the question why did the Administration not put this consultation on the agenda?

The proposals from Police Scotland to close the public service counter and reduce hours in police stations is being recommended for Dundee and right across the rest of Scotland.

These proposals are directly related to the constant number of police officers and the falling number of police support staff in Police Scotland.

They follow from the cuts and rationalisation programme run by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill that is hoped to save £1.1 billion from the creation of the new single police force by 2026.

The introduction of a single police force on the understanding that it could provide a more efficient use of resources within the police service.

As you know, I am an economist, and I have noted in this Chamber many times the trade-off between efficiency and fairness.

I shall return to this.

The single police force was supported on the basis that where economies of scale could be found that these could then be used to promote local policing.

But we are seeing once again the Scottish Government’s strong preference for centralised control of local services is taking over and the opportunity to strengthen local policing has been set aside.

And as a result the numbers employed as police support staff have been cut dramatically.

The reduction of duplication, the Scottish Government told us, would protect front-line services.

Well, police support staff are part of the front-line forces against crime.

And they along with police officers are responsible for the 39-year low in recorded crime.

But that reduction did not just begin when Alex Salmond became First Minster.

It has gone on for some 20 years thanks in no small part to the role played by support staff as well as police officers in that period. 

But police support staff’s work is rarely recognised by the Justice Secretary or by the Scottish Government.

Having been involved with a number of restructuring exercises, I know change and at this speed can impact on the frontline. 

And also, no one likes job uncertainty.

So many people involved in organisations that are going through restructuring decide to move on and during this state of flux, there is uncertainty about who will be left once the dust has settled.

Holyrood magazine published today that chief constable, Sir Stephen House, “We have had to reduce our volume of police staff but there is a real danger, and I absolutely acknowledge it, of us losing talented people, sometimes to the private sector[.]”

Sir Stephen revealed the issue had been discussed with Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, last week.

“What we have to do is to try to keep convincing our civilian colleagues in the organisation that in the all-round package this is a great place to work and an exciting place to work.

“It’s a place of work where we could not function without our civilian colleagues, so there is a balance [with the number of police officers] to be found at some point in the future.”

I think on balance the pace of change ought to be re-examined.

So, either less people do more work.

Or some tasks are not done.

And if officers are doing to do more “back office” duties, it is also not economically sound having officers on £30k per year back-filling duties that were previously done by people on £16-18k.

I have spoken to a number of constituents regarding the proposed closures that will impact on the East End ward.

The feedback was interesting and varied.

Two were under the impression that although the civil staff were being paid off, the police officers would staff the station.

They were disappointed to learn that this was not the case.

The general feeling was of disappointment and anger that no-one was fighting for the services in the east of city.

People identify and attach a sense of safety having a police building in the community.

Rather than closing public counters, many would like a counter facility at the training centre in Douglas.

Interestingly, once I shared the data and noted not many people visit the station, then some asked that surely answering the door was not the station assistants’ only task.  

About half of constituents, like me, questioned the number of contacts recorded, as they, like me, have attended Longhaugh several times during the day pressed the buzzer but have not had a response. So, is this confidence in the data?

A few people noted the inevitability about it as “It is always closed when I go there to drop off lost property!”

Another said told me of a time recently when he found prescription drugs in the street, he visited Longhaugh but there was no-one there, so he used the yellow phone and reported the incident, and a police officer visited his home to collect the medicine.

I know people are encourage to use 101 to report non-emergency incidents.

Some people do not like using the telephone and other don’t always have credit on their mobiles.

 

I believe these proposals reduce ease of access and the perception of community safety.

 

 

 

 

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