SCOTLAND'S senior police officers have called for the scrapping of around half the country's 32 councils in an attempt to save money.

The president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents is to question the current structure of local authorities. His intervention follows the creation last month of new national single police and fire services.

Last night the comments by Chief Superintendent David O'Connor were condemned as absurd and simplistic by critics.

Mr O'Connor will warn at his body's annual conference in Pitlochry, which begins tomorrow, that councils and other public bodies, including health boards, must show the same efforts to reform.

Mr O'Connor said: "Police are undergoing a journey of reform to improve services and reduce costs. It is tough. But they cannot be expected to bear the brunt of cuts alone.

"A lot of what the police do, they do in partnership. I think there should be an open, constructive and pragmatic debate about reform of the 32 local authorities and 14 health boards. Are there too many, is there duplication of effort and cost? Can we afford not to consider reducing these numbers?"

He called for options surrounding reform to be debated across the public sector, including the use of a single emergency service and shared emergency service contact centres.

Mr O'Connor added: "Fewer local authorities and health boards could mean fewer senior management posts, better services and reduced costs."

A position paper for the conference describes the need for a "journey of reform" similar to that embarked upon by police, fire and ambulance services. It cites the number of police divisions in the new police set-up – 14 – implying a model for council reduction.

Mr O'Connor said wider public-sector reform was essential, requiring a constructive, open and pragmatic public debate.

He said the single force was finding savings where it could, which are returned to the Scottish Government for reallocation.

He added: "We need to be sure reform is being considered across the public sector and not just mainly in the justice area."

He suggested the numerous emergency services public contact services be streamlined number to become "blue light emergency services public contact services" as part of that process.

The new single police force and fire service are part of reforms designed to save £1.7 billion over the next 15 years.

Estimates suggest Police Scotland will make £39.8 million in annual savings through cutting key civilian staff from Scotland's police service under proposals agreed between the Scottish Government and the force.

The savings come from the loss of an estimated 3000 police staff jobs, as many back-room functions such as human resources and IT are merged.

Councillor David O'Neill, president of the local government umbrella body Cosla, said: "This is as absurd as it is simplistic and comes from an unelected person.

"He misses the point, as we work together as community planning partners, and [Finance Secretary] John Swinney has already said there will be no local government re-organisation."

Professor Richard Kerley, who chairs independent think tank the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, said: "This is both simplistic and premature. It's a bit like planning the victory parade while you are still limbering up for the event.

"There are not even operational budgets in place for the new police service.

"We have had less than two months of the police being amalgamated and while there have been no spectacular disasters yet, it is way too early to say it's been a success and lessons have been learned."