Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill
Parliamentary statement on police and fire reform
September 8, 2011
This Government has made real progress in building safer and stronger communities.
Crime is now at a 35 year low and detection rates are improving, helped by the 1000 additional police officers we have put into communities.
In the last decade, significant steps have been taken to improve fire safety.
That success is under threat from cuts by the Westminster government - and this Government will not sacrifice those hard-won gains.
The reforms I am setting out today give us the best possible chance of protecting what we value the most, and keeping Scotland safe and strong.
Yes, this reform is taken against the backdrop of those Westminster cuts.
But it is also the right thing to do. With less money to spend, we need to ensure there is no decline in the level of services our communities receive.
Any nation has to evolve and change if its services are to be fit for the future. The current structures date from 1975 - before the internet, before mobile phones, and before any number of measures which have allowed us to steadily reduce criminality.
But crime will always be with us, and people will always want to feel safe in their daily lives - so we need a structure which suits the world as it is today.
Yesterday the First Minister set out the Programme for Government - an ambitious programme with the creation of a new single Scottish Police Service and a new single Fire & Rescue Service at its heart.
The reasons for this course of action lie in the Christie Commission report. It studied how our public services could be adapted to modern needs while retaining our social democratic values. The report - and the ideas that lie behind it - have been recognised across the public sector.
In this instance, reform will mean we can;
· Protect and enhance police and fire & rescue services for all communities - urban and rural;
· Sustain these services for the long-term; and
· Strengthen governance and accountability.
This is ambitious and we'll depend on the professionalism, the experience, the knowledge and the skills of the people in the services.
I would like to recognise today the powerful message sent out by Chief Constable Kevin Smith, who will lead the reform on behalf of the police service as President of ACPOS. Chief Constable Smith said yesterday: "As the leaders of the service we are now firmly behind that decision and it is our responsibility, our duty, along with Scottish Government, to make this work for the people of Scotland and the men and women of the Scottish Police Service."
I know people in the services will, like Chief Constable Smith, rise to the challenge and shape and deliver new services we can be proud of, services which build on the strengths of what we already have.
In the police service, the ACPOS, ASPS, SPF, SPSA and SCDEA are looking forward, not back, and are determined to work constructively with Government to deliver an effective and efficient new Scottish Police Service.
In fire & rescue, all eight Chief Fire Officers and the FBU are looking forward, not back.
I know this journey is at times a challenging one - change is always a tough call - but this is a journey which the whole of Scotland is on.
COSLA is facing the same challenges as the rest of us - delivering good services with less money - and they have their own concerns. I trust that together we can deliver this change as smoothly as possible.
I welcome the constructive approach of all the agencies involved.
The status quo was not sustainable - we can not afford to keep doing things eight times over. To do nothing would mean going down the route we see South of the Border -where there is no alternative strategy, leading to massive reductions in police numbers and an attack on terms and conditions.
And the arguments for a regional model didn't stack up. It would have been cumbersome, bureaucratic and would not have delivered the same benefits as a single service. The worst of both worlds.
That left the single service option as the best way forward for the services.
We have not taken this decision lightly.
It was taken after sustained dialogue with stakeholders and partners in every part of Scotland.
It was taken after thorough and sustained engagement with people at all levels in the services. With councils and the public.
It was taken after thorough consideration of all the available evidence.
It was taken after learning from what others have done, including an international summit on policing.
It was taken after consultation. A consultation which showed no clear consensus - but showed strong support for reform.
And it was taken after the electorate voted overwhelmingly at the Scottish Parliament elections in favour of reforming the services.
Over the Summer, my colleague Roseanna Cunningham and I have been getting round Scotland to visit every police force and fire service to discuss the issues with officers and staff at all levels.
We saw the diverse best of Scottish policing and fire & rescue. Local services. Specialist support to respond to serious threats. Genuine engagement with communities.
Single services will safeguard and improve all of that.
Some people expressed legitimate concerns about single services, on centralisation, governance and accountability. our proposals will address each of those concerns.
Centralisation will not happen. We will improve local services and strengthen links with communities.
We will reduce costs and overheads. We will eliminate duplication - ensuring things are done once, and not eight times over. We will deliver some services in different, more effective and efficient, ways. We will provide what's needed and maintain the visible presence of services in every part of Scotland.
On accountability, we will create a strong formal relationship between each of our 32 councils and the services. A designated local officer will have significant delegated authority to work with the council and other partners to shape and deliver services.
At present, only 146 of the 1222 councillors in Scotland have a formal role in the governance of the services. Our proposals would see that number increase significantly as more elected members have a say.
Local services will continue to be delivered within a flexible national framework.
On national governance, there were legitimate concerns, particularly in relation to police. There will be no political interference.
We will ensure clear separation between Ministers and the services by establishing new independent bodies to hold the Chief Constable and Chief Fire Officer to account. Crucially, Ministers will not be able to give instructions to the services on operational matters.
The Lord Advocate will retain his crucial role in overseeing the investigation of crime and ensuring the independence and impartiality we need in a democratic society.
We depend on the people who work in the police and fire & rescue services in countless ways. They are one of our most important assets and we need to protect them.
Existing staff and officers will move to the new organisations when they go live. Terms and conditions will be protected at the point of transfer.
Single services are the best option for our communities, to ensure they remain safe and strong.
Last week, at a summit convened by the Scottish Government, we heard from six countries where single services work effectively and a seventh where a single service is imminent.
This Government is ambitious for Scotland. If Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland and Norway can have successful single services, so can Scotland.
Today, I am publishing a further consultation paper which sets out proposals for how the new single Scottish services will work in practice, and seeks views on the detailed legislative provisions which we will bring forward to Parliament.
Reform of police and fire and rescue services means we will be able to save £130 million a year, while maintaining that visible presence in our communities that has crime rates at a 35 year low and fire deaths that are almost 50 per cent lower than they were a decade ago.
I give a clear commitment today that we will refine these proposals and develop the detail with a range of partners, including local government, over the coming months.
Reform is needed to maintain the excellent services the people of Scotland receive from our police and fire & rescue services. Our proposals give us the best chance of protecting and improving the crucial community-based police and fire & rescue services which are so valued, and essential, in our communities.
Our proposals will sustain local services, strengthen the connections between the services and the communities they serve, and enhance national governance.
I note the broad support there has been for single services across this Parliament and I welcome the opportunity now to answer any questions members may have.