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Plan to cut control rooms 'a dark day for the emergency services'

POLICE Scotland is at the centre of a row over plans to axe half its control rooms, putting 300 civilian jobs at risk.

BETTER TECHNOLOGY:  Chief Superintendent Val Thomson says the changes will speed up the sharing of information.               Picture: Colin Mearns
BETTER TECHNOLOGY: Chief Superintendent Val Thomson says the changes will speed up the sharing of information. Picture: Colin Mearns

The single force aims to pull the centres out of Aberdeen, Stirling, Glenrothes, Dumfries and the former headquarters of Strathclyde Police in Glasgow over the next two years.

It faced an angry reaction after outlining plans yesterday to concentrate on new digital hubs at Motherwell, Dundee, Bilston Glen near Edinburgh and Govan.

A fifth control room and national command centre will be kept in Inverness, but it will handle police radio messages rather than calls from the public.

Separately, the fire service yesterday reconfirmed plans to cut five of its eight control rooms, with Aberdeen set to lose its unit.

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: "This is a dark day for Scotland's emergency services.

"Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has done nothing while emergency police and fire services are dismantled."

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "The appalling trend of centralisation is creating intolerable stresses and strains on our public services."

About 300 jobs are listed as "at risk" with Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House due to present the plans to a special meeting of the Scottish Police Authority next week. It pledged to examine them rigorously.

It is understood that 200 people are likely to leave, through early retirements, voluntary redundancies and transfers.

Nearly 1500 civilians and officers work at the 10 control centres and nine contact centres - for non-urgent calls using the new 101 number - spread over 11 sites, including a service centre in Bucksburn, Aberdeen, which is also to shut. Requests by 300 workers to quit are currently on hold.

Police Scotland believes moving to the five hubs will save up to £20million by 2017-18 as it aims to cut more than £1billion over the next 12 years.

Gerry Crawley, of staff union Unison, said: "These closures are not about making communities safe. They are budget driven cuts."

Unions said that the proposals would drive what amounts to the gradual de-civilianisation of the police service.

Mr Crawley added that police chiefs were looking to change the ratio of officers to civilian staff in the control rooms. "They are talking about it being close to 50-50," he said. "We find that completely unacceptable given that the costs of employing a police officer is much greater than a civilian."

Unison has long argued that a decision to maintain police officer numbers means civilian staff are bearing the brunt of cuts.

Chief Superintendent Val Thomson, the officer in charge of the service, said: "Moving to fewer, larger centres will enhance our capability to respond to incidents, as well as large scale emergencies, with increased availability of staff, better technology and faster ways to share information."

Chief Superintendent David O'Connor, President of the Scottish Association of Police Superintendents, said: "The reduction in control rooms makes sense in terms of efficiency, economy and modernisation."

Brian Collins, deputy leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, where a control room will go in Dumfries, said: "This closure will undermine that trust and confidence in the effectiveness of policing in our region."

An SNP spokeswoman said its strong record on policing stood despite Westminster cuts. She added: "There will be no compulsory redundancies - a commitment the Scottish Government has for all public sector staff."

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