SPECIALIST transport police officers would rather quit their profession than be forced to work for Scotland's under-fire national force, MSPs have been told.

The Scottish Government has announced controversial plans to merge British Transport Police (BTP) into Police Scotland, despite high-profile warnings from officers and unions that the move risks leaving the public with a poorer, disjointed service.

Nigel Goodband, chairman of the BTP Federation which represents grassroots officers, refuted ministers' assurances that levels of specialism would be maintained claiming some experienced staff would rather walk away from their jobs than become Police Scotland employees.

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He said: "The level of uncertainty that sits within BTP Scotland won't guarantee the retention of staff. There are certain staff who are at a time in their career that they won't want to take a particular risk by changing terms and conditions, pensions rights, etcetera.

"There will be individuals that will choose to leave policing if they don't any longer remain a British Transport Police officer. So how do the Scottish Government and Police Scotland give the public the guarantee that they can retain that expertise given there are going to be officers that leave the force?

"They have joined British Transport Police because of the nature of that role. If they wanted to join Police Scotland, they would have. Some of these individuals [who will leave] are middle management and senior management who provide the leadership in addition to the expertise.

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"That's something that personally, I don't think you can guarantee that you will replace immediately. Long term, I accept, but immediately there will be a timeframe where that expertise will be diluted."

Giving evidence to Holyrood's justice committee, Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins admitted the merger would be "massively complicated and complex" but said the force would work to deliver the will of parliament and that issues were "not insurmountable".

The Smith Commission recommended the devolution of the functions of the BTP to Holyrood, although there is strong opposition to what Tory MSP Douglas Ross described as the "destruction" of the force north of the border. Other options put forward include retaining BTP but making it more accountable to Holyrood and the Scottish Police Authority. Another suggestion has been to rebrand it 'Transport Police Scotland' and promote closer ties with the national force but let it remain a separate body. However, the Scottish Government is pushing ahead with its merger plan.

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AAC Higgins said: "We could absolutely police the rail network in Scotland, [but] there would be some massive transition issues to overcome and we would need to plan very carefully for the future.

"I accept the points about the potential of losing staff. That's just the circle of life in many ways, people come and people go. But with a transition period of just over two years part of the complex work that we would undertake is to seek to recruit, train and identify within Police Scotland exactly what the needs are.

"I'm certainly not trying to minimise the task in front of us. It would be massive, it would be complex."

Gordon Crosson, President of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said: "There could be a detriment to service, absolutely. Everybody gets that. But I would say there could also be an enhancement to service by the ability to flex resources that exists within Police Scotland who could assist on incidents on the railway."