HALF of Scotland's police control rooms will close over the next two years after radical centralisation plans were approved by the new single force's ruling board.
Despite widespread protests from union members and opposition politicians, the Scottish Police Authority yesterday agreed a plan to shut centres in Aberdeen, Stirling, Glenrothes, Dumfries and the former headquarters of Strathclyde Police in Glasgow.
The watchdog did so after senior officers, led by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, said five remaining hubs would deliver a better service for less money than the current 10 control rooms using a hotchpotch of different IT systems.
Sir Stephen and his colleagues believe there was a "risk" in trying to shore up the old network it inherited from its eight legacy forces, especially given that the youngest computer system was already nine years old.
They want to concentrate on new digital hubs at Motherwell, Dundee, Bilston Glen near Edinburgh and Govan; and a special national command centre in Inverness.
Asked about fears that local knowledge would be lost in such centralisation, Sir Stephen said: "The concern is one of perception, not reality."
Nearly 1500 civilians and officers work at the 10 control centres and nine contact centres - some of which only handle non-urgent calls - spread over 11 sites, including a service centre in Bucksburn, Aberdeen, which is also to shut.
Requests by some 300 workers to quit are currently on hold. However, the police yesterday acknowledged that there was a mismatch between volunteers and the sites they had earmarked for closure.
Dumfries will be the first control room to shut, in April. Worker Kirsteen Patterson stressed the importance of local knowledge.
She said: "I wouldn't want to be in dire need of the police and the person on the other end of the phone did not know where I was."
Sir Stephen admitted it would be hard for the 34 Dumfries staff to find new police jobs - although there will be no compulsory redundancies.
He said talks had begun with other local agencies to find jobs for the workers.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Board yesterday also approved closures to control rooms, including those in Inverness and Aberdeen.
The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents earlier called for blue lights services to share control rooms to ensure a presence in every region.
SPA members yesterday called for long-term talks to make progress with co-location.