ONE of the principal arguments for merging Scotland's eight police forces into one was that the reform would save taxpayers money.
There would be costs in setting up the new structure of course, but an end to the duplication of resources across the eight forces, we were told, would mean the reform would pay for itself.
Already, this argument is looking less than convincing. Not only have we learned that the new force will be saddled from day one with £100m of debt, there is also a £60m shortfall in the force's budget for the first year. Now, to add to these problems, data obtained under the Freedom of Information legislation reveals that the single force will be landed with another big bill from day one: £1m a year for suspended staff. So much for a fresh start.
This £1m a year pays for officers and backroom staff who are currently on leave while disciplinary or criminal proceedings are carried out. In one particularly worrying case, John Mauger, the assistant chief constable of Central Police, has been paid his full salary of £104,000 for nearly three years and there is still no decision in sight.
Some of this cost is unavoidable. Staff who are the subject of disciplinary procedures deserve their cases to be investigated thoroughly, and that can take time and money. However, it is a basic tenet of justice that it should be delivered as swiftly as possible, and it is perverse that those who work for the criminal justice system should be the exception to this.
The Scottish Police Authority says it has been encouraging early resolution of the cases wherever possible but could they convince the thousands of men and women who work for the police in Scotland of that? We know that the creation of the single force will lead to redundancies – the man who will be chief constable of the single force, Stephen House, has said so. How are those who are made redundant to feel when they know that some of their colleagues are sitting at home doing nothing and drawing their full salaries?
The numbers of staff involved may be relatively small – one or two in each force on average – but the sums of money involved are not and a speedy resolution of the cases would be fair to everyone: to the staff involved, to their colleagues who are working under tight budgets, and to the taxpayers who expect public money to be used fairly and efficiently.
It is largely to save money that the creation of the single force is going ahead in the first place, although the case for an end to the eight-force structure has been made on other grounds too. Much of the opposition to the single force was based on the link between a police force and the area it works in, but crime has become much more of a national phenomenon that needs to be fought on a national scale. Crime has moved on – and policing must move with it. Scots will not be convinced of this, however, if the new single force is not also seen to be financially prudent and sound. There will always be costs associated with staff who are suspended or sacked, but, within the rules of due process and fairness, the new force must do all it can to expedite the cases. If the behaviour of the staff involved has fallen below what it required, they must be quickly moved on. If the disciplinary procedure finds them innocent, they must get back to their job as quickly as possible. Then, the new single police force can, at last, get on with its work.
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