Editorial: Single force – Why Labour would have done things differently

insideMoray welcomes Rhoda Grant MSP back from the summer recess.

THIS IS MY first column after the summer recess and the topical issue affected us all across Scotland is the issue of the single Police Force.

It doesn’t matter if you think there should have been four Forces or even three, the fact is that we have one Force. What is for sure is that the previous situation of eight legacy Forces was not efficient and there had to be changes. This is where we in the (Scottish Labour) Party differ from the Government.

I get asked all the time what (Labour) would have done differently. I can tell you that first and foremost we would have had a business plan. It is amazing to think that apparently there was no plan for the move to a single Force or if there was, no one has so far been able to produce it.

This plan should have included detail on how IT systems were going to be merged, details relevant to procurement of goods, details pertaining to budgets and spending, training, operations, risk assessments and so on.

The ‘driver’ in the scenario that we ended up with, has been cost cutting and massive savings. It does not seem that enough thought was put into the required quality of service and community needs. Allied to all this we have a target of millions of savings within the first year and a statement from the Government that the number of Officers would remain constant at 17,234 .

Is it no wonder that the whole structure would start to unravel. The Chief Constable decided to make savings by cutting Support Staff, but who would do their jobs? They were critical to the service but government did not protect their numbers. I understand that 2000 Support Staff have left already since the Force was set up, who is doing their jobs. We know for a fact, despite claims to the contrary, that beat officers are doing these roles. Take Firearms Enquiries Officers. Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen used to have 10 Support Staff carrying out these roles. Currently there are only two and I again understand beat officers are being trained to pick up the short fall.

The Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has intimated that he intends to stand down. The Chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has already stood down and a new appointment is waiting to pick up the reins. They have been the scapegoats, but what about the Government, what about their role in all this? They most certainly have questions to answer.

Finally on this issue, we must remember the dedicated men and women who make up the Officer and Support Staff numbers still within Police Scotland. They continue to do their best in difficult circumstances. We never hear about, or read about all the good work that they do, but no opportunity to take pot shots at the service is missed. Yes there is something far wrong in the structure and overall management of the Force, but I believe that it can be remedied.

There are reviews on going into the high profile shortfalls of the Police, there is the long awaited results of the staff survey and there is a consultation process underway. Once all are complete, the SPA and the Chief Constable need to come forward with a plan of action as to how they are going to address the shortfalls within this valued service and how they are going to best serve the communities across Scotland. The Scottish Government have to accept their liability and responsibility and do more to support the incoming Chief Constable and the Chair of the SPA.

Moray Businesswomen

On a brighter and more positive note, I lodged a Parliamentary Motion last week recognising the success of three Moray Business Women at the Association of Scottish Business Women’s event in Glasgow on Friday 18 September 2015.

Faith Simpson’s chartered accountancy firm (Faith Simpson Accountancy, Elgin) took the prize as the Association of Scottish Businesswomen Business of the Year, Carolle Small took the prize as Professional of the Year for her work at CAG Architects Ltd, Keith and Margaret Reynolds won the Most Enterprising Business Award for her Keith-based firm, Dogrobes.

What a terrific achievement for these women and their staff from Moray, such success will inspire other women to follow their own dreams and with the support offered to new start up businesses from Business Gateway, HIE and others, these dreams could very easily become reality. Well done again to all three women and their staff.

Finally in this column I just wanted to mention Caring.

Caring is something that most of us will have to do. It is estimated that three in five people will have a caring responsibility at some point in their lifetime. There are more than 759,000 unpaid adult carers and more than 29,000 young carers in Scotland, and they save the Scottish economy more than £10 billion a year.

In my region, the Highlands, Islands and Moray, there are an estimated 40,518 carers. Carers can often feel isolated, especially when they are at a distance from services. Many carers have had multiple episodes of caring and are often caring for more than one person at a time, for example caring for a child with disabilities and an elderly parent. It is done with love, but the stress that it causes can sometimes be unbearable. That is why we need to support our carers and why I welcome the Carers (Scotland) Bill. I hope that it will improve the lot of carers and give them entitlements in their own right.

I think that we all acknowledge that it is a step in the right direction, but we also recognise that we will need to take many more steps before we get it right. Many carers are students trying to juggle many hats with the intention of continuing in further education. We need to make sure that our universities and colleges are doing all they can to support these individuals in every way that they can.

I will be lodging amendments to the Bill as it progresses in the hope of improving it and making it work for carers.