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New national police force is accused of asset-stripping

THE creation of Police Scotland has resulted in the force "taking over" the whole of the country and "asset-stripping," the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has warned.

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Willie Rennie launched an attack on the force following confirmation 61 police station front desks around the country would be closed from March 3.

The counter service at Oakley in Mr Rennie's Fife constituency will be among those closed.

The national force was formed on April 1 last year, with the country's eight regional forces coming together to set up the new body.

Last week, plans were confirmed to close public counters at 61 of the country's 214 stations in an attempt to offer value for money.

Mr Rennie said: "We feared the centralisation of police - effectively having Strathclyde Police taking over the whole of Scotland - would result in asset-stripping of local services.

"These facilities have been built up over generations. Some may argue they are not as valuable as they used to be, but if you get rid of these facilities they will be very difficult to recreate.

"You have got the withdrawal of police from front-facing connection with the community."

Plans to shut half of Scotland's police control rooms over the next two years under a centralisation scheme also drew Mr Rennie's fire. Despite widespread protests from union members and opposition politicians, the Scottish Police Authority has agreed a plan to close centres in Aberdeen, Stirling, Glenrothes, Dumfries and the former headquarters of Strathclyde Police in Glasgow.

Mr Rennie said: "Control rooms being closed down, the court service being cut in other parts of Fife, it is almost like a retreat from the engagement we've been used to and once that has gone it is very difficult to get it back."

His comments come amid increasing criticism of Police Scotland for apparently disregarding local policing policies that were formerly the responsibility of the eight divisional forces.

The most high-profile change of tack is the new approach to the sex-for-sale industry in Edinburgh's saunas, where after years of taking a "blind eye" approach on public health grounds, officers raided saunas last summer.

Edinburgh City Council has now scrapped its long-established practice of licensing the saunas, despite opposition from groups representing sex workers and local MSP Margo McDonald.

The concerns over the effect the new force has had on local policing led MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's Justice Sub-Committee On Policing to embark on a series of fact-finding trips to communities across Scotland last month to uncover whether local services have improved, remained the same or deteriorated.

The committee has also been tasked with finding out if services have been designed to address the specific needs particular to local areas and if there has been any change to approach since last April.

However, Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson insisted local policing remained the "bedrock" of the new service.

He said: "The benefits of a single service are already being felt right across the country, with national specialist resource now meaning our local community team resource is further strengthened and supported.

"This means all areas have access to specialist expertise and equipment whenever and wherever required and can draw flexibly on extra officers and specialist skills when local demand requires it.

"We have listened to all the views put forward and made changes to reflect this, but an effective, modern policing service must evolve to reflect the communities we serve."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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