Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has written to the chairman of Strathclyde Police’s governing body saying public money should not be spent on major projects – making specific reference to a plan to move the city centre HQ to Glasgow’s east end – while the debate on potentially reducing the number of police forces is ongoing.
The intervention comes on the back of cross-party disquiet within Strathclyde Police Authority over the proposed move and the decision to invest £350,000 on top of £650,000 already spent on a detailed business plan for the project.
The new building could be built on a brownfield site close to the epicentre of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Money has also been committed to a new police office in Renfrew, new cells at Kilmarnock and a new facility in Drumchapel, Glasgow.
But Mr MacAskill has been accused by senior force insiders of interfering in operational policing matters, insisting it should be down to Chief Constable Steve House and his authority to decide on whether a new HQ is right for the west of Scotland.
Authority chairman Stephen Curran said it was “perfectly right” the Government should be kept abreast of major spending on projects, but others within the body have described the intervention as rude and questioned why the Government was making such demands just weeks after more money had been spent on the scheme.
Earlier this month, The Herald reported how the radical £40 million plan to relocate from the force’s historic home in Pitt Street had split the authority, with some members now calling for the project to be shelved.
Some members fear criticism if they spend millions at a time of budget cuts, while ground contamination issues, funding issues facing the body regenerating the area, and the potential legacy of a long-standing bill for the councils contributing to the new headquarters were also raised as potential problems.
But last night, one police source said: “The reason we’re going for a new HQ is that it makes operational sense and it’s the chief constable who decides on what makes operational sense. If we want policing to be the best it can be it needs the best facilities and that isn’t Pitt Street.”
Mr Curran added: “I’m happy to write a reassuring reply that we will not be making any substantial decision without positive dialogue with the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is entirely sensible that forces consider their long term investment plans to ensure that any reforms are as cost effective as possible – an approach agreed with police conveners.”