Grampian Police

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 3 March 2011.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S3M-7977, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Grampian Police. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern comments from the Chief Constable of Grampian Police, Colin McKerracher, that merging Scotland's police forces could lead to the loss of 4,000 police officers’ jobs, including up to 400 in Grampian; further notes Mr McKerracher’s view that there is not a shred of evidence that a single force would be the best option; welcomes the vote by Northern Constabulary officers and staff to reject a single police force by 86.6%, and expresses its disappointment that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has, it considers, undermined and pre-empted the current consultation on the issue by stating that a strong case had been made for a single force.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I am pleased that the Parliament decided that we should debate the motion, which I lodged to highlight what I believe to be a huge mistake that is about to be made by the Scottish Government as it considers proposals to abolish Grampian Police, and all the other local forces across the country, by establishing a single national police force for the whole of Scotland. I am grateful to the Aberdeen Evening Express for taking up the campaign on behalf of the people of the north-east.

The cabinet secretary gave notice of his clear intentions when he said in the Parliament:

“a strong case has been made for a single service”.—[Official Report, 12 January 2011; c 32003.]

Indeed, he was on television this week lambasting the current force structure. It is obvious to me and it must be obvious to any reasonable person who has heard the cabinet secretary that he has undermined and indeed pre-empted the conclusions of his own consultation on the creation of a single police force.

There is no doubt in my mind that the prime mover in the matter is the chief constable of Strathclyde Police, whose overtures have struck a chord with the Scottish Government. It seems to me that the cabinet secretary would very much like to deal with just one chief constable. The problem is that other people think that a single chief constable for Scotland would never be out of the minister’s office.

It is my understanding that none of the other chief constables supports the chief constable of Strathclyde Police. Indeed, the chief constable of Grampian Police, Colin McKerracher, has said that there is not a “shred of evidence” that a single force would be the best option. He also made it clear that it could lead to the loss of 4,000 officers’ jobs, including up to 400 in Grampian.

A vote by officers and staff in Northern Constabulary to reject a single police force by more than 86 per cent makes it absolutely clear that the move is unwelcome. Indeed, the chief constable of Northern Constabulary has made it clear that he would consider it a dangerous move.

Some people have made the charge that that is only to be expected—vested interests are reluctant to change. However, that is most definitely not the case in this instance as, for example, the chief constable of Northern Constabulary is due to retire and, therefore, would not be personally affected by any such reorganisation. The two chief constables are doing their duty in speaking out against such a disastrous move and I commend them for it.

It is said that the prime motivation for the Scottish Government to consider the creation of a single police force for Scotland is saving money. To the unenlightened observer, that explanation would seem to be logical at such a time of austerity. Therefore, all the more suspicion arises about a Government that knows only too well that such amalgamations and changes cost a great deal of money to implement.

The Scottish Government had to withdraw the costings associated with the proposal because there was a furore among senior police chiefs, who essentially thought that the figures were a work of fiction and they were not prepared to sign up to them. It also knows full well that the previous United Kingdom Government abandoned proposals to amalgamate police forces in England when it was shown that that would have cost in the region of £400 million to implement.

Why does the Scottish Government not propose to amalgamate our 32 local councils? It does not propose to do that because ministers know only too well how much the previous reorganisation of local government cost the taxpayer.

The argument about savings and efficiencies that the Scottish Government has used so far to explain its desire to do away with our local forces such as Grampian Police does not hold water. Experience shows that it costs us money to amalgamate, so why does the nationalist Government wish to create a national police force or, indeed, a national fire and rescue service? Why is the Government’s instinct to centralise and centralise? We must ask that important question, and this is the appropriate forum in which to ask it. I hope that the minister will enlighten us in his closing speech.

We must be ever vigilant against plans by any Government that wishes to centralise control over local policing, including this minority nationalist Government. We have a long and fine tradition in Scotland—and across the wider United Kingdom—of local police forces responding to local people and operating at arm’s length from national Governments. If a single police force were created, it would undoubtedly have a chief constable based in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The minister asks why; he wants to place the chief constable somewhere else. That officer would report directly to the Government.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The minister makes a sedentary intervention asking why Glasgow or Edinburgh. I would be delighted to give way to him if he wants to intervene and say that he is considering basing a national chief constable somewhere other than Glasgow or Edinburgh, but no intervention seems to be forthcoming.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Consultation is going on and those matters will be discussed. If the member wishes to suggest where, if we go to a regional model of three or four forces, the headquarters should be based, that suggestion will be considered. If he wishes to suggest where the headquarters should be based if we go to a single-force model, that too will be considered.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

When I mentioned that the minister wants to locate a national chief constable in Glasgow or Edinburgh, he said, “Oh no,” from a sedentary position. Then, when I asked him where he would suggest the chief constable be based, he was not so forthcoming.

Centralisation of our police forces must not be allowed to happen in our liberal and democratic society. It is a most illiberal act. We must not allow the Government to do this under the pretence of undeliverable so-called savings. There will not be savings to the public purse; we will get a more expensive police service that is unaccountable to the people whom it serves and accountable only to the Government. We will have lost a valuable local service. I say one thing to colleagues in this Parliament: do not let it happen on our watch.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

Although the Liberal Democrats might have a point, they are, as usual, overegging the pudding. Their motion and their contributions tonight are misleading.

The election leaflets that they are putting out in the north also contain a number of untruths. For instance, they say in one leaflet:

The SNP and Labour are backing plans to create a single Scottish police force based in the central belt.”

That statement is patently untrue, because the Scottish National Party Government consultation offers three options for the future of the police in Scotland, and no decisions have been made.

In the same leaflet the Lib Dems say:

“at least 200 frontline police officers would be taken from the streets of the Highlands and Islands.”

Where do they get that nonsense from? To suggest that a single police force will come at the expense of 200 out of Northern Constabulary’s 787 police officers is stretching credibility to its limits and is irresponsible electoral scaremongering.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

I know the chief constable’s view.

For the sake of clarity, I point out that the three options in the Government’s consultation on the future of the police are: first, the status quo; secondly, three or four forces; and thirdly, a single Scottish force.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

No thanks.

The Government, quite rightly, has not taken a final position on the issue, although it has stated that there is a growing consensus that the current eight-force structure is unsustainable for a number of financial and policing reasons. I agree with that. The current set-up, with eight chief constables and associated management costs, is untenable and some reduction is inevitable. Those who advocate retention of the current model must tell us how they would pay for it and keep the record number of police on the beat.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

It seems to follow from that that the status quo is not an option; it has already been ruled out. Is that not the case?

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The options are there in the consultation document. Are we not debating the options? Am I not entitled to have a view on the options, as the Lib Dems are entitled to have a view on the options? We are discussing the options. I am saying that there is a growing consensus that the status quo is untenable, and I agree with that. That is what I have said and that is what I believe.

However, I do have concerns about a single-force model, as there is a danger that any move to centralise police services into a single Scottish force will effectively swap control from Inverness for control from Glasgow or Edinburgh and lead to a loss of decision-making power and senior posts from the north of Scotland. I am pleased, therefore, that the cabinet secretary has acknowledged the dangers of centralisation and the importance of local communities. Indeed, the consultation document makes it clear that restructuring provides the opportunity to devolve greater responsibility to the local level, with improvements in local engagement and accountability.

At the moment, my personal preference is for a four-force model and an expansion of Northern Constabulary to take in Moray and Argyll, which have similar issues to the current Northern Constabulary area, and I have been actively pressing that option for some time. It would provide an expanded Northern Constabulary of around 1,300 police officers. The force area would have a population of around 450,000, it would cover around 15,000 square miles and have a budget of £70 million. I have an open mind on the other three forces, but Grampian Police and Tayside Police could merge, Strathclyde Police could join with Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, and Lothian and Borders Police could merge with Fife Constabulary and Central Scotland Police. That is all open to debate in the consultation.

Although I favour the four-force model and have made that clear to the Government, I look forward to hearing the arguments of those who favour a single force about just how it would ensure enhanced local accountability and better local policing for the Highlands and Islands and which of its Scotland-wide functions would be operated from the north.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing the debate. Members’ business debates are traditionally more consensual affairs, but we could always rely on Mike to ensure that what is likely to be our final North East Scotland members’ business debate would be a somewhat more testing event for us.

It is welcome that we have the chance to debate the idea of a single police force and policing in Grampian, as that is an important issue. I would be the first to recognise that Mike Rumbles has always been a doughty campaigner for his constituents and for the north-east, which is what has motivated his lodging the motion for debate tonight. I hope that he recognises that achieving the best for our constituents in the north-east is also what motivates those of us who support change, however much we disagree on the way forward. Our motivation is not the detriment of community policing; it is the protection of it and the desire for a better police service for Grampian and the whole of Scotland.

We cannot hide from the fact that, as things stand, we are looking at substantial cuts in the budgets of all police boards. My fear is that the status quo makes such cuts inevitable for a number of years to come. That would lead to reductions in the number of police officers and key police civilian staff, meaning that more police officers would have to come off the beat. Yes, we can debate what the savings would be—Mike Rumbles is correct in saying that the published figures have been hotly debated—but I, for one, do not accept any assertion that moving to a single police force would mean our losing hundreds of police officers or having to reduce police numbers in Grampian. However, I argue that that fear will be realised if we do not move to a single force. There is no doubt that moving to a single force would realise savings that could be reinvested in the front line to keep police officers on the beat.

Let us not pretend that the current arrangements for funding forces benefit Grampian. In the previous session, under the Labour-Liberal coalition, we secured extra funding for Grampian Police by revising the formula. However, whereas local authorities in other parts of Scotland were able to invest in extra police officers for their forces earlier in this session, local authorities in Grampian simply were not able to do the same for our force. We are disadvantaged by the current situation and, despite the famous concordat agreement, Grampian Police faces losing 50 police officers and 100 police staff. I believe that people in Grampian—like people everywhere in Scotland—are concerned more about having visible policing in their community than about what badge is on the uniform. It is the same in Northfield, Kincorth, Peterhead and Stonehaven as it is anywhere else. To protect the number of police on the beat in those communities, we must make the proposed change.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

Does the member have any views on which services might be based in the north of Scotland if we had a single police force?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

With a single police force, there would be national resources and national parts of that force structure in the north and in Aberdeen. I am sure that Dave Thompson would make a strong case for that, and he can rest assured that I would make a strong case for that as well. Nonetheless, it is vital that, in making that change, we protect local accountability and local police priorities. The example of a single force working with strong local accountability can be found close to home: the police in Northern Ireland work within a similar structure. I believe that there are many circumstances in which having a single force would benefit the people of Scotland in tackling crime, and that having a single force would benefit the people of Grampian as well.

Grampian Police has done a great job, but if we are to maintain the level of policing that we need in the Grampian area, we must change and be clear with people about our views on change. I do not agree with Mike Rumbles’s analysis of the situation, but he and I are clear about our respective positions. It is important that the Scottish Government is clear, at least before the election, and says what its preference is. I suspect strongly that, like me, the Government has been persuaded of the need for change, but it needs to be clear about that, as it is a really big decision, and a crucial one for the better policing of communities in the north-east and throughout Scotland. On that basis, I welcome this debate.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am delighted to participate in the debate, but at the same time I am concerned that it may be slightly premature. My concern relates to the fact that proposals are on the table to change significantly the structure of our police forces in Scotland and an election is only a few months away. Although it is perfectly right that the subject should become an election issue, it is always our responsibility to ensure that politics and policing are kept as far apart as possible. Given the fact that a consultation is in progress at the moment, it is reasonable for us to expect that views will be expressed.

As a Conservative, I see the highest priority for policing in Scotland over the next few years as being to maintain our current number of police officers. Conservatives were instrumental in ensuring that we got 1,000 police officers in the budget four years ago—we got that commitment in the first year, and we got the officers the subsequent year. Preserving those police officers on the streets of Scotland must be the highest priority.

Moving on from that, we have a situation in which Colin McKerracher, the chief constable of Grampian Police, is making public statements about his concerns about the effect of restructuring. He suggests that, as a result of restructuring, we might lose 4,000 police officers across Scotland, and 400 in the Grampian area. I believe that he is entitled to make that point, in whatever level of detail he wishes, and this is the right time for him to do so. However, I worry that the statement has been hijacked tonight by Mike Rumbles for some of the political reasons that I have mentioned. If the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has a view to express, I welcome it, as part of the consultation. If there is evidence to suggest that policing across Scotland, particularly in the Grampian area, would be damaged by the proposals, I look forward to discussing it. However, the bottom line is that it is essential that we do not allow our chief police officers to be taken into what is, essentially, a political argument. We must allow them to argue their case on a structural and management basis, and we must ensure that we do not align our political parties with particular police officers. I believe that Colin McKerracher’s position may have been weakened by tonight’s debate.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The member seems to be operating under a misapprehension about what Parliament is for. The purpose of this debate is to ensure that mistakes are not made by the Government, which must make the decision on the future of the police service. I have commended the chief constables of Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary for making the statements that they have made. They are making quite clear to MSPs that we need to do something about the situation. I am trying to do something about it, and I hope that Alex Johnstone is doing the same.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I acknowledge the fact that any member is entitled to bring forward their concerns. I believe that the argument that the member is putting forward is one possible interpretation of the changes that are proposed. We are in the heart of a consultation process, and we should participate in it with a broad mind and an understanding that we must maintain the numbers of police officers who are on the streets in Scotland and that whatever action is decided on by this Government or a subsequent one must have that effect before it has any other.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

As others have said, Grampian Police does an excellent job. It is among the most efficient forces in the country. That success should be built on through closer co-operation between police services. Instead, the Scottish National Party seems to be intent on wrecking that good work.

It is clear that the proposals for a national police force have no basis in facts or evidence. The minister seems to have started with what he wants to achieve—more political control of the police and more Government centralisation—and is working backwards to try to justify it. He is likely to come unstuck sooner or later.

The others who are shouting loudly in favour of the proposal are not objective bystanders and seem to have little understanding of the nature of Scotland’s geography. I believe that the creation of a nationwide force would be hugely expensive and would increase political interference in our local services and almost certainly reduce the number of officers on the beat.

Claims have been bandied about of savings of £190 million from the amalgamation of the forces. However, as Mike Rumbles pointed out, we have seen no evidence to support those claims.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

The truth is that making savings of that sort would mean the loss of around 4,000 officers. Grampian’s share of that would be 10 per cent, or 400 officers—that addresses the point that Dave Thompson was going to make. I do not see that as progress.

Of all the problems that a national police force could bring, three worry me most. The first is governance and local accountability. I am deeply concerned about damage to front-line services and breaking the link with our local communities. A one-size-fits-all approach to our emergency services, with remote headquarters, would give bureaucrats—in the central belt, most likely—too much power, without enough awareness of local circumstances and issues. Currently, police forces are autonomous and accountable to local communities. They are free to decide how best to deploy resources and to set their own priorities within a national framework.

A national force would mean that local priorities would be lost. To whom would a national police force be accountable? Would it be accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice? A single police force that was responsible politically to the justice minister would be unsatisfactory. There would be a great risk that political concerns rather than local priorities would dominate. Would a national police force be accountable to a board with perhaps one representative for the whole of Grampian? That would surely be wholly unacceptable to citizens of a modern, diverse Scotland.

The second issue is the loss of horizontal integration with other local services. Policing is rightly part of the local government family. The development of close links between criminal justice, social work, education, drug and alcohol services and the fire service, even, means that we have seen great progress on tackling the root causes of crime. The prevention and detection of crime are not aided by isolating the police and moving the key decision makers a couple of hundred miles down the road to Glasgow.

The chief constable of Grampian Police currently chairs the north-east of Scotland child protection committee and is an active and welcome member of many other strategic groups in the region. Grampian’s strategic co-ordinating group, which was set up to build the region’s resilience, is successful because the people who are currently round the table are in a position to commit all the resources of their organisations to any particular problem. The chief constable of a national police force would not sit on each resilience board or each community planning partnership. As a result, we would see a less responsive local service and a disintegration of services.

The Government set up the Christie commission to consider the future of the public sector. It is inexplicable that two key community planning partners—the police and the fire and rescue services—have been unplugged from that review. That demonstrates either a lack of understanding of the role of a modern police force or a lack of respect for it.

Finally, would Grampian get a fair share of resources from a national police force? The region has never yet received a fair share of funding from central Government. We are always struggling to cope with less than the national average. Centralising the force would lead only to greater problems in resourcing. It is likely that we would see our police numbers cut and resources being drawn to the centre, which would surely impact on safety and detection.

In conclusion, the proposals pose the greatest challenge to our local police service for a generation, and they would be disastrous for the north-east.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mike Rumbles for bringing this debate to the chamber. The issue is, of course, rather an unusual one for a members’ business debate. Perhaps it would have been better to discuss it in Liberal party time, but let us not go there.

The issue is really the proper management of our police service. From my industrial and commercial experience, I have to say that periodic reviews are needed of the structures, priorities and organisation of any team that has more members than the number of fingers on my hand. I am sure that anybody with experience of any organisation would back that up. Even if an organisation’s objectives have not changed, the operating environment will have changed. That is our world.

When previous constabularies were amalgamated into the current structure in 1974, Ayrshire Constabulary became part of Strathclyde Police. Before 1974, Ayrshire Constabulary had a chief constable, two assistant chief constables and five chief superintendents. Today, the area that it covered has one chief superintendent, two superintendents and 150 more officers. I am sure that people blew their police whistles at that point and said that the amalgamation would be a disaster, but we have probably found ways of working with it.

I do not know what the structure of Scotland’s police force should be and, with the greatest respect, I do not think that anybody else does, although people will hold positions. That is why I commend the Government for holding a consultation. I hope that that consultation will be thorough and that people will respond to it. From my experience in the Parliament and of consultations on bills and other things, I am quite sure that, with a bit of care, teasing out, listening and thinking, we will come to a pretty decent answer. We rarely get the perfect answer, but, again, that is life.

I want to make one more point and ask members to hear me out before they intervene. I doubt that the number of police forces—and the number of chief constables—matters much. The management of any large team—and what we are talking about is large by any standards—has three levels. In this case, there are first the individual officers at the bottom. Alex Johnstone made the point that, fundamentally, they are what this is about. Any individual who tries to do a job needs line management so that they know what the job is, personnel support and technical advice. I note that there are, of course, specialist police officers, but let us live with that.

The top of any organisation needs those who can engage with the world around them at the top level, which in this case would be the Government, international organisations and many others. The purpose of the senior management of any organisation with any purpose is to determine strategy and to ensure that the structure is reviewed.

The middle layer of middle management has the job of making the connections between the bottom and top layers and, fundamentally, ensuring that the guys on the ground, who are particularly important in the police, fit in with the strategy and do the right job.

Alison McInnes made one very important point, although she was not the first to do so. The other issue is accountability, which must mean the accountability of the appropriate people at the appropriate level. To assert that everything is working well because it is being done through chief constables at force level is surely to mislead. The reality is that we need to have accountability at the appropriate local level, and I suggest that that will often be superintendent and inspector level.

There I must leave it.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I thank Mike Rumbles for securing the debate and I accept the spirit and ethos that have been shown by him and every other member who has contributed. Every elected member has at heart the interests of the police and services that they provide in our communities, although perhaps there has been more heat than light in some of the things that have been said.

I begin by reminding members that we are consulting on police reform and that the sustainable policing project, which is led by Detective Chief Constable Neil Richardson, is in the process of putting more quantitative and qualitative detail on the various options. A decision has not been made. That will be for any new Administration after the election.

We have heard some interesting and thoughtful contributions from all parties today. We have also heard some understandable, but not insurmountable, concerns about local policing and about centralisation and accountability, particularly—although not uniquely—under the single-force model. However, we have also heard some political scaremongering from people who are well aware of the financial challenges that are facing us, but who seem to ignore the necessity for reform.

We have heard from members who appear to believe that a policing structure that was created more than 35 years ago is still the best model for Scotland. Can a model that creates barriers and boundaries between forces really deal with threats and crime that pay no attention to such boundaries? Scotland is significantly changed from what it was 35 years ago.

Is it right that forces have to call on each other to get access to specialist resources to help to deal with major incidents? Is it right that such support is often provided on an informal or ad hoc basis, or that forces are spending valuable time and resources on agreeing contracts and service agreements with each other?

Even Strathclyde’s chief constable has said that Strathclyde Police would be unable to cope with a major terrorism incident without assistance from other forces. If the largest force in Scotland cannot cope on its own, how can the seven smaller forces hope to cope?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I think that I am right in saying that, when a certain incident occurred not so long ago in the north of England, a substantial amount of assistance was given by Strathclyde Police and other Scottish police forces. There are going to be cross-border issues anyway in major incidents, so why is that incompatible with the current structure?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Mutual aid is always provided when it is requested. That happened during the dreadful shootings in Cumbria. As I understand it, Strathclyde Police covered the M6 down to Lancaster as Cumbria’s forces were mobilised within the community.

We are talking about a terrorism incident and we have faced one in Scotland, although many of us were deluded into thinking that it would not happen. We should listen to Strathclyde’s chief constable when he says that he does not think that his force could cope with a major incident. We were extremely fortunate and well served by police and other individuals in a personal and work capacity at the Glasgow airport incident, but we must prepare.

Does a regional structure that preceded the Scottish Parliament, having been invented 20 years before unitary councils and 30 years before community planning, provide the right kind of national and local accountability? Is the structure really right for the partnership working and local engagement that is vital to safer communities?

Finally, is it right that in the face of unprecedented budget cuts we are maintaining eight separate police headquarters and unnecessary duplication across the eight forces? There is duplication in areas such as human resources, finance and legal services; in policies and procedures; and in areas such as roads policing and specialist operations. There are eight HQs and all that duplication, when the northern joint police board has just agreed to close 15 police stations, and Grampian’s suspension of police officer recruitment and its freeze on police staff recruitment are continuing into next year, and it is running its third voluntary redundancy scheme. Reform is about addressing those questions; the status quo is not an option.

There is not a shred of evidence to support suggestions that merging police forces could lead to 4,000 fewer police officers or that reform will somehow mean that everything is centralised and officers are taken away from local policing. We are reforming so that resources are used for local front-line policing in all communities and not for unnecessary duplication.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The minister used the phrase

“not a shred of evidence”.

That is the phrase that is used in the motion, but does it not come from Colin McKerracher, who said that there is not a “shred of evidence” that a single force would be the best option?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We need the evidence. I have no doubt that that was said—it is not in dispute—but where is the evidence?

We are reforming so that local officers can continue to solve local problems. The officers whom I met in Arran a few weeks ago were not working to some city agenda or waiting for orders from a distant HQ. They were working with local communities to solve local problems.

As one of the respondents to the Northern Constabulary survey says,

“This argument was the same when the various county forces merged to form Northern Constabulary in the mid-late 70’s. There was a fear about local policing then, but we managed it in a professional way”.

Mr Don referred to the position in Ayrshire. In the Northern Constabulary area, there used to be three separate forces, each with its own chief constable. Now there is one chief constable, but 301 extra officers. In Grampian, there used to be two separate forces, each with its own chief constable. There is now just a single force led by one chief constable, but an extra 702 officers. I do not know whether at the time of the last negotiations Liberal Democrats opposed the moves, but those facts confirm to me that we can deal with providing and protecting front-line services.

Reform is about protecting the 1,000 additional officers that the Government has delivered, including 145 in the Grampian Police area and 80 in the Northern Constabulary area. It is about spreading services and functions around the country and ensuring that all communities have access to specialist policing. It is about improving local accountability and engagement and providing clear accountability for national policing structures.

There are many views and we want people to contribute. We need to ensure that we consult. No position has been taken by the Government. We set out three options, but we are quite clear that the status quo is not tenable. I welcome people’s contributions—[Interruption.]—preferably not from a sedentary position. I will welcome significant contributions that people make.

We will not take a decision until we have considered the views and the work of the sustainable policing project. However, members should make no mistake: the status quo is not tenable and reform is necessary. As I indicated, what matters is bobbies and not boundaries. I hope that those who are worried that a reduction in the number of forces, whether to a regional or single model, will take note of the advances that have been made in Ayrshire, and in the Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary areas.

Meeting closed at 17:38.