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Agenda: The police must catch up when the force's public counters are not used

I regularly walk past the old blue police box on Buchanan Street in Glasgow.

These boxes were once a familiar sight the length and breadth of the country.

Many years ago, they were a really important way that you or I could have made contact with the police.

But times, and our lives, change. Many people today under the age of 50 couldn't tell you what those police boxes were for without referencing a well-known TV time-traveller. Technology moved on, and the public moved with it.

The last week has seen a lot of public comment about proposed changes to the hours during which the public can walk into a police station to contact the police.

Most of us pick up the phone if we need to speak to the police. What few of us do any more is visit them.

Because of how we live our lives, the result is that we have a number of police offices across the country with public counters that are rarely used.

In some of the quieter locations, the average number of daily visits is less than one. Or we have a situation where there are two public counters within 500 yards of one another.

Put it to a member of the public that they are paying to staff a police office that nobody visits or keeping open two offices within the length of an average high street and you would no doubt get a headline about wasted public money.

This is the age of the smartphone, the internet and social media. So, like the old blue police box, some public counters have run their course.

Technology has moved on and the public have moved with it. Sometimes it is hard for us all to step back and see the implications of that public shift; hard, also, for the staff doing that job.

But making our public services work with the grain of how we now live our lives is the right thing to do.

Reform is an opportunity to ensure that more of the right people, with the right skills, are available at the right time and in the right places to support people in the way they now live their lives.

Now I know that not everyone is internet savvy or comfortable with social media. Many people do not have access to the means to use either.

That is why public counters need to be retained where the public themselves demonstrate through their own demand that they need them. That is something we will continue to keep under scrutiny.

But reviewing public counter opening hours is a legitimate and sensible area to examine, to bring one of our most critical and valued public service better into line with where modern Scotland is today.

And that would be the right thing to do whether or not we were facing a very significant reduction in funding all across the public sector.

Policing in Scotland remains local at it heart. Consultation will start soon on the new local plans, and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) will provide scrutiny to ensure a strong connection between local views and the content of local plans.

Reducing the unnecessary and inefficient customisation of policing is the aim, not centralisation.

Change is almost always difficult. But when the public vote with their feet, a responsive public service needs to move with them.

We need to genuinely involve the public and others in that process of change. Both Police Scotland and the SPA are committed to explaining why, how and when changes are needed.

We need to work harder at that so what we are trying to do - and why -is not only understood but so our thinking benefits from the ideas of others too.

We can and should get better at communicating change. But for me, improving public services, including the substance of this proposal, makes a lot of sense.

Jeane Freeman is a member of the Scottish Police Authority

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