Local Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2011.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Good morning. The first item of business is a Scottish Liberal Democrat Party debate on local services.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am glad to open the last Liberal Democrat debate of the session, on local services, and I will do so by nailing our colours firmly to the mast. Liberal Democrats believe in a bottom-up attack, in empowering and motivating local people and in local communities having as much power as possible over the circumstances of their own lives. That is the very fibre of our approach. We are suspicious of and cautious about concentrations of power, whether in the hands of the state or of private interests.

Of course, this Parliament has a democratic mandate, but we recognise and welcome the local democratic mandates given to local councils throughout our country. At best, they operate in close partnership with robustly independent voluntary and third sector organisations, which bring expertise, focus, flexibility and the human dynamic to the table.

The Liberal Democrat approach seems to be increasingly at odds with the centralising agenda offered by most of the other political parties in the Parliament. In effect, the Scottish National Party Government has taken away local financial discretion through its approach to local government funding. In fairness, there is a wider argument to be had about the implications of the council tax freeze but, in this context, the SNP Government has taken for national Government powers previously operated by local government.

The SNP has also attempted—without too much success, it has to be said—to micromanage other matters such as class sizes and to reduce local authorities to being delivery agents for central Government.

Across a wide range of services, the forthcoming election is fast shaping up to be a competition between SNP foolishness and Labour bravado to see who can rush the fastest down a centralising road—for the fire and rescue service, for social work or care services and, above all, for our police forces—regardless of the evidence, the lack of figures or local opposition.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Can Mr Brown tell us where the Lib Dem approach to decentralisation was when the Lib Dems, in government, scrapped the area tourist boards and brought all tourism services together in one national agency, VisitScotland?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

It is fair to say that the proper approach to tourism provision has been a difficult and controversial issue for a number of years—there are no two ways about that. However, if Murdo Fraser looks at the Liberal Democrat approach in its manifesto for this election, he will see something that will be, I hope, meat and drink to his apparent approach to the issue.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

If the minister does not mind, I will make a little progress.

Liberal Democrats argue today that the Gadarene rush to centralise everything that moves is flawed and will have damaging consequences for local services. There is no vision for how services will be accountable to the public and the move is likely to cost millions at a time of heavy financial pressure.

As Tavish Scott told the annual conference of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities yesterday, next year, under Labour or the SNP, it will need a much smaller venue. I add that it will also need a much shorter agenda.

Let us look more closely at the police proposals.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Robert Brown says that the SNP Government micromanages, but does he recall that it was the Labour-Liberal Administration that said that £6 million must be used by local authorities to procure junior antisocial behaviour orders? Twelve such orders were procured at a cost of £0.5 million each. Was that not micromanagement and does he now regret it?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Yes it was and yes I do, but the policy did not come from our side of the coalition.

On the police proposals, we are told that three options are on the table: the status quo, with eight forces; a model with three or four forces; or a single police force. We know from Kenny MacAskill that the status quo is not, in fact, an option. He said as much during the members’ business debate last Thursday, so we now know that under the SNP there are only two options rather than three. However, the cabinet secretary’s tone and language make it clear that there is really only one option: he supports one police force and a situation in which the new police supremo and the justice secretary will be in and out of each other’s offices. There will be a narrow and exclusive police voice, instead of the healthy range of voices from across Scotland that we currently have.

But wait—there is an election coming. SNP members in the Highlands and Islands and the north-east, such as Dave Thompson and Brian Adam, are made uneasy by the suspicion that taking away local control of our police forces might not play too well for them. Therefore, for the moment, they are licensed to talk about the three or four police force option as if it were a reality. I wager here and now that in the event that the SNP is returned in May, no more will be heard of the three or four force option.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am happy to give way to Dave Thompson, so that he can explain his position on the matter.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

I thank the member. Does he accept that a consultation is going on? Has he read the consultation paper? Does he expect to contribute to the consultation?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I think that Alison McInnes dealt satisfactorily with the matter in last Thursday’s debate, when she said:

“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.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2011; c 33960-1.]

There is no such ambiguity for the Labour Party—or the Conservatives, for that matter. Central control over the police is manna from heaven as far as Richard Baker is concerned. No longer does the Labour Party support nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, but when it comes to the police and local care services, Labour members are, by instinct and conviction, card-carrying members on centralisation and the top-down approach.

The SNP Government’s move to a single police force has been condemned by police chiefs across the nation. David Strang, the chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, called the Scottish Government figures on the costs involved in a single police force, which were contained in the interim report of the sustainable policing project team, “irresponsibly misleading” and

“not supported by the evidence”.

The figures had to be withdrawn from the consultation document because of widespread criticism from police leaders throughout Scotland.

I know, because Richard Baker told me, that at this very moment a new person, whom I think Richard Baker has met, is producing new figures, but I say to the Scottish Government that the process no longer has credibility. It is time for the police centralisation document, “A Consultation on the Future of Policing in Scotland”, to be withdrawn and for an independent review to be commissioned, to establish the real costs of moving to a centralised model. That was the demand of a delegate at the Unison conference earlier this week, who represents police civilian staff, who are often overlooked in the current arguments. Those people are right to demand the withdrawal of the consultation, because the cabinet secretary’s plans will affect the lives of people who are doing real jobs and carrying out vital functions in communities.

I accept the views that are expressed in the amendments about policing having changed during the past 35 years and about structures being less important than services. Liberal Democrats are entirely open to sensible, evidence-based discussion on sharing back-office functions, when that can create savings, on flattening management structures, when that makes sense, and even on structural reorganisation, when there is a compelling public case for it.

However, I reject utterly the view that the current wave of centralisation is driven by financial cuts. It is driven by dogma. The current Scottish budget of £32 billion is rather more, even in real terms, than the £14 billion that we had in 1999. Indeed, it is more than the growing resource that we had in every year until about 2005. On a more specific point, police restructuring will not deliver net savings for at least four or five years, as far as I can see, by which time we will be out of the current comprehensive spending review period and—I hope—into a period of more promising finances.

Restructuring should be driven by our view of what the service should look like and should do, and it should provide a long-term, sustainable arrangement; it should not be directed by short-term pressures. Restructuring is likely to cost an arm and a leg, as we have seen in most public sector reorganisations. It will lead to higher salaries at the top, more bureaucrats running the super-duper new organisation, a spanking new headquarters, huge redundancy payments and an organisation that stops focusing on policing for at least a couple of years until everything settles down.

How much more time can I take, Presiding Officer?

Members: Two seconds.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You can have five more minutes, Mr Brown.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Thank you.

The consultation claims that there would be savings of between £81 million and £197 million. However, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said:

“the figure of £197m, as a potential saving from rationalisation, is not sustainable”,

and can be achieved only

“through the loss of thousands of officers and support staff”.

That is obvious. Colin Mair, from the Scottish Government’s improvement service, said that the original figures were an “abuse of evidence” and

“caveated almost to the point of parody”.

Page 17 of the interim report made it clear that between £30 million and £90 million of the suggested savings would come from “local policing”.

Whether or not there will be savings from a new structure, everyone agrees that there will be costs in achieving it, and of a level that caused the abandonment of a scheme to merge Cumbria Constabulary and Lancashire Constabulary. It was the case that no work had been done to support the costs of change here; perhaps the cabinet secretary will enlighten us as to whether that remains the position.

For what it is worth, for years after the 1995 local government reorganisation, no one was able to agree whether the costs were between £120 million and £191 million, as the Government said, or between £325 million and £620 million, as COSLA suggested. I suspect that they were significantly higher than either of those ranges.

Ultimately, though, the argument is not about costs, however significant; it is about local communities and where power lies in a democracy.

I will mention briefly social work and care. We know that the Labour Party supports a national care service. We also know that it is an idea sketched out on the back of the proverbial fag packet—Labour members get a bit shirty when they are asked for the details or costs, or for evidence in support of it.

Then, there is the SNP plan for a lead commissioning model for elderly care. It is not that having a seamless link between social work and the national health service is a bad aspiration; it is just that—

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Robert Brown is talking about the elderly. Does he support the policy announced by Tavish Scott to cut concessionary fares for the elderly?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Sorry, I did not catch that. Cuts to what?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

At the recent party conference, Robert Brown’s party leader said that the Liberal Democrats planned to cut concessionary fares for the elderly.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

That was not said at all. George Foulkes should follow what is said more carefully.

Let us return to the SNP. At no point in the past four years, despite the resources of Government, was the SNP’s plan ever discussed with COSLA, which, not surprisingly, described it as “incompetent”.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

No—I should continue towards finality, as members will be glad to hear.

The plan leaves 38,500 social workers in limbo, with the prospect of transfer at some point to the NHS.

Whether for the police, the fire and rescue service, social work or care, the proposed model appears to be driven by assertion, with no evidence, few figures, no local sign-up and no rational basis for change. It is a recipe for confusion, policy standstill, bureaucracy and cost. Whole chunks of the agenda around the police, the fire and rescue service and elderly care services have, in effect, been placed outside the purview of the Christie commission, which was specifically established to consider the future of the public sector.

Liberal Democrats have a different vision for Scotland, based on local people, in local communities, with a power of general competence, who are expected to make decisions about their own areas, informed by local knowledge of what is best there and in which local government has the powers, the levers and the authority to drive innovation and improvement in local services. Scottish Liberal Democrats are the only party standing up for local services.

I move,

That the Parliament is concerned by the apparently endless desire on the part of centralising national politicians to attempt to take over control of local services, witnessed by proposals on police, fire and social work; opposes the flawed proposals for a single police force, under which, for example, local control of policing will be removed from the Northern and Grampian police force areas; does not support centralisation by government assertion, where no robust costs of change are produced; believes that a single one-size-fits-all approach to social work will waste money by destroying those successful local initiatives that are already in place, and believes that the people of Scotland will be better served by a new approach from government that trusts local people to make good decisions for their areas and equips local government with the powers, levers and authority to drive innovation and improvement in local services.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I begin by reminding members that we are currently consulting on police and fire reform, and that both consultations are founded on an approach that protects local services in the face of unprecedented budget cuts and that gives local authorities and local communities a greater say on local priorities and services. The Liberal Democrats may wish to contribute to the consultation by press release, or indeed by megaphone diplomacy—that is a matter for them. Meanwhile, we will get on with consulting the key stakeholders.

My colleague Fergus Ewing has been up meeting representatives of island councils. Just yesterday, we met the chief executive of Highland Council. I think that it is open to me to say that he will be contributing to the consultation, representing the majority view in the council. It would be fair to say that he accepts that the status quo is not tenable, and that it appears that Highland Council disagrees with the Liberal Democrat position that we do not need to change in the face of the unprecedented cuts. The chief executive will suggest, I think, that the majority view is for a regional model comprising four forces.

Equally, I will be meeting not just the chief constable of Grampian Police but elected members and the chief executives of Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council on Monday. I will be interested to hear their views and, in particular where they stand on the suggestion from Highland Council that Moray should be removed from Grampian Police and put into Northern Constabulary. I am happy to listen to the position and arguments for a regional model but, as I have said, there are questions that have to be overcome.

A decision will be informed by the consultations and the work that Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson and Her Majesty’s fire service inspector Steven Torrie are taking forward, which will provide a professional and evidence-based view on the most effective and efficient way in which to deliver police and fire services in Scotland.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In previous debates, not least the debate in the chamber last week, the cabinet secretary has made it clear that his preference is for a single force for Scotland. Is he now rolling back from that position?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I have not said that my preference is for a single force. I have said that the argument for that clearly has greater weight at the moment than the regional force model has. That was my position in the statement and it is the position that I made clear to the chief executive of Highland Council. I am happy to listen to and to take on board the council’s suggestions, and if the Liberal Democrats in Highland wish to argue for a regional model, that is fine. They will need to explain, though, what the boundaries would be. They will need to explain to some forces, such as those in Dumfries and Galloway and Fife, which have unitary boards, how their accountability will be improved by moving to a joint board. There are questions to be answered.

The Government’s position is that the status quo is untenable, and I will come on to that in due course. Two positions are clearly possible: a regional model; and a single force. The arguments for one are stronger at the present moment, but there are still major doubts to overcome, and that is why we have a consultation.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will the cabinet secretary explain to the Parliament why the consultation follows evidence gathering by the officers he mentioned rather than precedes it, which one would imagine would usually be the position?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Well, the matters are on-going. Additional evidence was produced by Karyn McCluskey and, indeed, by Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen of Lothian and Borders Police. Some might not have liked what they came back with, but evidence was produced by them and put in. We recognise that there has to be significant drilling down, which is continuing at the moment. That information will be made available; it was made available to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and it will be provided further in due course. There is an acceptance that the open consultation is continuing, that matters require to be clarified and that we have to overcome the doubts.

If there is to be a regional model, those who support that approach must square the circle. Would Moray be in Northern Constabulary, Grampian Police or both? What would the boundaries be? How would we ensure better accountability for Fife and Dumfries and Galloway? How would a board monitor various matters? Where would the Scottish Police Services Authority stand in relation to a regional model of four? Equally, there are questions about a single force that have to be answered—that is a valid point.

There is a broad consensus, among all apart from the Liberal Democrats, that reform is essential to ensure that structures that were created more than 35 years ago—before unitary councils and community planning partnerships, before the Scottish Parliament, and before some of today’s policing and fire problems even existed—are fit for the 21st century and for the financial challenges ahead.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary talked about community planning. Does he agree that the police and, indeed, the fire service are key members of the family of community planning and that unplugging them from that and from the Christie commission will lead to a disintegration of such planning?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at all. After all, once the consultation has been considered and is concluded, it will be passed to the Christie commission. There is clear acceptance that, whatever boundaries are made and whether we go for a regional model or a single force, in any event things will be predicated on what is a local authority and, if that is varied by the Christie commission, will have to be adapted, so I do not see the two as conflicting at all.

It is also essential to give all communities, urban and rural, access to specialist police and fire resources and to give Scotland the capacity and capability that it needs to deal with crime and incidents that show no respect for barriers or boundaries between forces and services. Chief Constable House has publicly said that Strathclyde Police would be unable to cope with a major counter-terrorism incident without assistance from other forces. Scotland needs the national capability to prevent and respond to real threats, and there are real threats. In the early tenure of this Administration, we faced the Glasgow airport bombing and, even as we speak, a terrorist is being detained—although I cannot go into that, as it is sub judice. That shows the position that we face in this country, which must be dealt with.

Reform is essential to provide clear delivery of and national accountability for national issues, and to strengthen local accountability and engagement by bringing decisions and accountability for services closer to communities. Most of all, it is essential to protect local services for the long term.

Communities do not want Fife Fire and Rescue to transfer firefighters to other brigades, or police forces such as Northern Constabulary and Grampian Police to go on closing police stations and freezing recruitment year after year. We do not want unnecessary duplication across eight police forces and eight fire services, with eight separate police headquarters and eight separate fire HQs and all the substantial overheads that those entail.

The officers from Strathclyde Police 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. The man in charge was Sergeant MacKay.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary mentioned people coming together. Is it not already the case that all over Scotland, officers—whether in our police or our fire services—are allowed to go into other areas when major incidents occur? To intimate otherwise is disrespectful.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

There has always been mutual aid and that will continue to occur, because that is the nature of the services. They go and assist, whether on a cross-border basis or across forces. I have no intention of changing that or of throwing away hard-won gains such as the 10-year downward trend in fire deaths, the fact that crime is at a 32-year low and the provision of 1,000 additional police officers, including 145 in Grampian and 80 in Northern.

Let us remind ourselves of the criticisms that people made at the time of the reforms in 1975. Before the old Ayrshire Constabulary became part of Strathclyde Police, it had a chief constable, two assistant chief constables and five chief superintendents. Today, the same area has one chief superintendent and two superintendents; it also has 150 more officers.

Lest members think that that is a Strathclyde phenomenon, it is not just the case in Ayrshire. What is now Northern Constabulary used to be three separate forces, each with its own chief constable. Now, of course, there is only one chief constable, but there are 301 extra officers. In Grampian, where there were two separate forces, each with its own chief constable, there is now just one force with one chief constable, but there are 720 extra officers. The First Minister has made it clear that there will be bobbies before boundaries. We are quite clear that we will have a lot more police officers, even if that means far fewer at senior grades.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

The consultation is due to be completed on Thursday 5 May and the Christie commission is due to report in June. Did I pick up the cabinet secretary correctly? Did he say that all the responses from the consultation will be collated, assessed and passed on to the Christie commission, which means that it will have approximately three weeks to make a decision before its report is finalised?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We have made it clear that, purdah notwithstanding, people will be able to contribute to the consultation. Clearly, the political process and the involvement of ministers end when purdah starts. The election will be held on 5 May. An Administration will have to be formed, and it will have to provide a view. The matter will be remitted to the Christie commission for its consideration. Frankly, the suggestion that the Administration that is elected—whether it is ourselves or others who form it—will make a decision immediately on 6 May is disingenuous. Views will be submitted to the Christie commission.

Reform is about sustaining and improving the gains that we have made. The alternative for our communities and for the professionals who serve them is already playing out south of the border, where significant reductions in pay and conditions are likely to be imposed rather than negotiated, and where it is estimated that there will be 28,000 job losses in police services and 1,500 in fire services. The Liberal Democrats should ask the Police Federation what it thinks about Tom Winsor’s report. They would keep the HQs and the boys in braid, but they would be prepared to jettison the rank and file who protect our communities. We will not sacrifice them.

There will be fewer police officers and firefighters for local communities if we do not make significant changes to ensure that we can address the budgetary problems. We understand that people are concerned about local services and worried about change, but now is not the time for political scaremongering. Rather, it is a time for serious and constructive discussion and debate about the best way to provide policing, fire and other public services in Scotland.

Since 2007, this Government has given power back to local authorities. We have reduced ring-fenced funding from £2.7 billion down to £0.9 billion. We have put decision making firmly in the hands of local community planning partnerships and our consultations on police and fire services seek to further that approach. They are about addressing the financial challenge but, more importantly, they are about protecting and improving local services and giving local authorities and communities the opportunity for deeper and more meaningful engagement with police and fire services.

I move amendment S3M-8120.2, to leave out from “is concerned” to end and insert:

“notes that Scotland and policing have changed significantly since the existing structure of policing was introduced over 35 years ago; notes the Scottish Government’s consultation papers on police and fire services reform and agrees that, given the significant financial challenges, such reform is necessary to protect and improve local services and to strengthen and improve local accountability and engagement; agrees that reform can only happen if it gives local communities and local elected members a greater say on local priorities and services, and notes that the expectations and requirements of health and social care have similarly changed significantly since existing structures were introduced and that reform is needed to deliver integrated services that are sustainable and appropriate and that make best use of resources focussed on the needs of local populations.”

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I welcome this opportunity to debate the important issue of the reform of our public services. As Labour’s justice spokesman, I take a particular interest in the current consultation on the future of our police and fire and rescue services. Other Labour members will cover in greater detail other aspects of the motion that is before us. We have departed from the motion’s position, which fundamentally argues for the status quo. We have made clear our support for a single police force and a single fire and rescue service, and we have two reasons for that.

We believe that it will mean better delivery of those services. It is not the case that the proposals have been on the table for a matter of months; they have been being discussed for years. The Fire Brigades Union has, for a considerable time, questioned the need for eight services, eight sets of expensive equipment and eight different approaches to health and safety. We agree that a single approach taken across the country will be better for firefighters and for fire prevention and community safety.

Likewise, a single police force will better enable us to tackle crime on a national basis. Crime knows no boundaries, whether it be drug-dealing, organised crime gangs or terrorism. Tackling criminals by working on a national basis will pay dividends in the fight against crime.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Richard Baker share my concern that, instead of having a consultation that is informed by figures and proper evidence, that kind of work is following the consultation? Is that a sensible way for a Government to proceed?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

As the cabinet secretary said—on this rare occasion, I agree with him—some evidence has been presented, revised and clarified. The fact is that the evidence is already there. We might disagree on the issue but it was being discussed for a long time before the consultation. For example, people such as Graeme Pearson, who has great respect on these issues, have been discussing it for several years.

We think that the proposal will result in better services, but we also believe that making the changes will realise savings. They will be offset at first by the costs of the change, but they will come in future. I accept that the first figures and savings have been disputed, but I know that more robust figures are being researched as we speak. When they are produced, I expect that they will show real opportunities for savings. Let us not underestimate the importance of that. We have a challenge to protect key services for communities across Scotland in the face of the substantial cuts that are coming from the coalition Government at Westminster. Those cuts are too deep and too fast, but we have to deal with them.

We can debate what the savings will be but I, for one, do not accept any assertion that moving to a single police force will mean losing hundreds of police officers and having fewer police on our streets. That fear is far more likely to be realised if we do not move to a single force and realise savings that can be reinvested in the front line. We cannot hide from the fact that, as things stand, we are looking at substantial cuts in the budgets of all police boards and all fire and rescue authorities. My fear is that, in that context, preserving the status quo would mean making substantial cuts to police and police staff numbers, and more cuts to firefighter numbers. We do not want to see a similar situation occurring here to the one in England and Wales, where budget cuts mean that police chiefs are predicting that there will be cuts in police and police staff numbers that could be as high as 28,000.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

As the member will know, the previous Government aborted a programme of amalgamating police forces in England and Wales because it was going to be highly expensive. Can he guarantee that any reduction of the police forces in Scotland to a single force will cost less?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

All the evidence that I have seen on moving towards a single force shows that while there will be implementation costs that will offset first-year savings, there will be very substantial savings in the future that will be about protecting the front line. The challenge for those who oppose the measure is to say what they would do to protect those key front-line services in the context of the deep cuts coming from elsewhere, which we must deal with.

The savings are all about protecting police numbers and ensuring that we do not take police off the beat to do jobs that should be done by police staff. Robert Brown was right to raise that issue: I say to him that this measure is about protecting those key police staff too, which will help to keep police on the beat.

This proposal is all about keeping police on the beat in our communities. I believe that people throughout Scotland are far more concerned about having visible policing on their streets than about which badge is on the uniform.

We agree that local accountability is important, but we contend that we can improve the structures of accountability for decisions on local priorities for policing and fire and rescue within a single service structure. In policing, the example is close to home: Northern Ireland has exactly that structure of local accountability, but within a single force. Indeed, we can look for strengthened local accountability, as too often the arrangements to hold police forces and fire and rescue authorities accountable through the boards are not as effective as they should be.

Too often, boards are not adequately resourced to do the job that they need to do in scrutinising the decisions that local forces make. I believe that we can have a better model for community involvement. I agree with Robert Brown’s comments in that regard. We believe that such involvement can be strengthened, whether at local authority or community level. That will ensure that local people have a stronger voice in the decisions that are made on those key services that are so important to them.

The key issues in the debate are community safety and policing, and providing the best services for our communities. I simply do not believe that those interests are best served by organisational boundaries that are based on the old regional councils. They are served by ensuring that we have the right investment in police and firefighters where we need them: not in eight headquarters, but in the city communities and the towns and villages where we live.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is Richard Baker clear that he is telling the Parliament and the Scottish people that a chief constable in charge of operational measures who is based in Glasgow or Edinburgh knows best where to deploy his resources in the north-east, for instance, which is an area that Richard Baker represents?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

First, I do not accept the premise that it is inevitable that such a person should be based in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Secondly, the key to ensuring that we have the best structure for making the right decisions locally is to have strengthened local accountability and consultation. Whatever the management structure is—we know that it will be reduced and less costly—it will be informed by decisions that are made on the ground. That is the important thing.

I do not agree with the Liberal Democrats’ position on the important issue of the future of our police and fire and rescue services, but we know where they—and the Tories—stand on it. We must consult on the detail of implementation, but it is vital that we should be clear with the electorate on where we stand on this important issue before we go into an election for what may be a five-year session of Parliament. That is why it is important for the SNP to say where it stands on the issue before we take our respective policies to the people.

The question for those who oppose change must be what they will do to protect front-line services. Where will they find the funds to protect police on the beat and firefighters in our communities? We must always put before structural boundaries the need to have the police, the firefighters and the people in place locally to deliver those services on which we depend. For that, the status quo is not an option.

I move amendment S3M-8120.1, to leave out from “is concerned” to end and insert:

“believes that the case for reform and innovation in Scotland’s public services is unanswerable and that meeting the needs of the public is more important than preserving structures; recognises that the need to protect frontline services in the face of UK Government cuts requires the status quo in public services to be reassessed; believes that moving to a single fire and rescue service, a single police service and the creation of a national care service offers the best opportunity for improving delivery of these services in Scotland, and believes that these new structures will allow the reinvestment of savings to maintain frontline staff while ensuring that there are improved mechanisms for local democratic accountability and delivery on local priorities.”

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I welcome the debate on local services that the Liberal Democrats have brought to the chamber this morning. I am also pleased to be participating in the national debate about the future of police services in Scotland. The thrust of the Liberal Democrat motion and the debate so far has been about the future of our police forces and the proposals to create a single national police force for Scotland.

The priority on the Conservative side of the chamber is to provide an effective, visible and local police service that is accountable to local people and communities throughout Scotland. Our ability as a nation to continue to support front-line policing has been made more difficult by the fact that the Labour Party in Government at Westminster made such a mess of the public finances. However, it remains our priority to maintain the current numbers of police and it will continue to be our priority in the next session of Parliament.

I am proud of our record in supporting the police in Scotland. We should not forget that Scotland has 1,000 extra police officers today because of the Scottish Conservatives. If we had left it to the SNP, there would have been only 500 extra; and if we had listened to Labour or the Liberal Democrats—who did not back an increase in police officer numbers—we would have been where we were four years ago, with fewer police officers patrolling our streets and higher crime rates.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

John Lamont always tries to be accurate, so I am sure that he will recall the commitment in the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2007 for more than 1,000 extra community police officers to link directly into communities such as those in the Borders that John Lamont and I both represent. That was our priority.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

Mr Purvis will recall that he failed to vote for the extra police officers that the Conservatives obtained from the SNP budget. Liberal Democrats failed to vote for those extra police officers; they failed to support those extra crime fighters and they failed to support our communities in their battle against crime.

Crime remains a real concern for many people in Scotland today. Too many people live in communities that are blighted by crime. The challenge for the next four years is to step up the fight against lawlessness, antisocial behaviour and violence so that our citizens can live free from crime and free from the fear of crime. The question that we must ask ourselves is this: how can we maintain the service that is provided by the police within the current financial parameters? When public finances are under such extreme pressure, it is appropriate that we look to cut duplication and unnecessary costs across Scotland’s police forces to ensure that we keep police officers not behind desks, but on the beat in our communities.

Our making those savings will involve difficult decisions. With 87 per cent of the policing budget going on staffing costs, and with large savings having to be found, it is clear that there is little scope for minor efficiency savings or tinkering around the edges. The actual savings that will be available through restructuring of police forces is—as we all know—not yet clear, but they are significant and the lesson from similar public sector reorganisations over the years suggests that those savings can be realised.

The Liberal Democrats have argued that restructuring police forces will, in some way, lead to a decline in local police services, but I argue that the complete opposite is true. If we do not reform, and if we blindly defend historical structures with their unnecessary duplications and costs, we will be depriving our communities of the front-line policing that they need and expect.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is that the argument that John Lamont used when the Conservatives reorganised local government in Scotland? Does he acknowledge the huge cost to the taxpayer that reorganising local government involved?

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

Any reform will have associated costs. However, evidence shows clearly that in the short to medium term there are savings to be gained. The savings that will be gained by merging organisations will outweigh the costs of restructuring.

I completely reject the Liberal Democrat argument. By defending historical structures we are depriving our communities of front-line policing. We need to make savings in order to allow front-line policing to be preserved. I am sure that no member wants a weaker police service for their constituents, but that would be the effect of the Liberal Democrat proposal. We should not get hung up on historical structures and lose sight of our top priority, which is provision of an effective, local and visible police service. I will not get drawn into defending out-of-date police structures if they come at the expense of front-line officers fighting crime in our communities.

We should see the situation as a challenge, but we should also see it as an opportunity to reform and improve the way in which policing is delivered. Police officers do an excellent job, often under difficult circumstances, but the truth is that the current structure of policing in Scotland is too bureaucratic and costly.

We should also acknowledge the failures of the current systems of accountability, particularly in the more rural and remote parts of our country. For example, most members of the general public have no idea what police boards do, let alone who is on them. We need a system that involves local residents, so that communities have a direct relationship with the police who are serving them. That is key to our support for any reform. Local accountability must be enhanced and protected to ensure that local people know how to hold their local police to account.

One way of doing that would be through having local police commissioners who would be directly elected by and accountable to the communities that they serve. Of course, the chief constable should retain operational independence—after all, police officers are experienced in fighting crime—but the elected commissioners would hold the local police to account for their performance and, collectively, would provide strategic national direction. Accountability needs to be at the heart of any reform of the police service in Scotland and we would be very wary of any reform that did not improve it.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am intrigued by the police commissioner proposal, which has not really found support in the chamber. How would that operate alongside a single police force? I cannot quite understand the relationship that the Conservatives are proposing.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

The exact detail of how the police commissioners would work needs to be discussed, but we foresee the establishment of between eight and 12 commissioners who would cover the whole of Scotland and would be elected to represent the areas that the police serve. Voters would have a direct link to their commissioners and would hold those people to account for the police’s local performance. The commissioners would also set the national crime rate reductions and ensure that resources were allocated to the right areas. That is the only way of ensuring that local people can hold the police to account.

The current system of local police boards does not work. If we were to ask any of my constituents who is on their local police board, they would not know. In such circumstances, how can residents hold the local police to account? They simply do not know. A directly elected local police commissioner who has a direct link to voters as well to the police would give ordinary constituents a much clearer idea of how to hold the police to account. I have to say that I am intrigued by the position of the Scottish Liberal Democrats on the matter, given that Nick Clegg and our coalition partners at Westminster fully support the idea of directly elected police commissioners.

Labour and the SNP talk about the need to protect local accountability with a single police force, but they have yet to bring forward any proposals to deal with the matter. Local accountability must be the key to the creation of a national police force.

The Liberal Democrats talk about the need for local control, but have brought forward no proposals for reforming the existing failing system and are blindly defending the current structure at the expense of front-line police officers. For those reasons, we cannot support their motion.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We come to the open debate. I ask for speeches of seven minutes, please.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

There have been some comments about how one defines local accountability. I have to say that, after Mr Lamont’s speech, I am none the wiser about the Conservatives’ approach to directly elected police commissioners in Scotland: as he says, those ideas have still to be thought up.

A number of years ago, a central Government body—the Scottish Court Service—proposed the closure of the sheriff court in Peebles, in my constituency. According to that body, the cost of the court was disproportionately high because, thankfully, the crime rates in the community were disproportionately low, so it concluded that the community did not merit retention of the sheriff court. However, the community, my predecessor Ian Jenkins and, crucially, the Minister for Justice Jim Wallace disagreed with the Court Service, as did Parliament, which felt that the community should still be able to have justice served and seen to be done.

The challenge, therefore, was to address the real issue of costs while retaining local accountability and local services. The solution was to retain the town’s police station—something else that Mr Lamont might well call an old Victorian structure—but to move it and the sheriff court into an underoccupied council building, which was the old county buildings on Rosetta Road. However, to make the proposition even stronger, Borders Council’s social work department moved social work into the same building and it was proposed that the community justice authority staff also be moved there. As a result, Peebles now has a co-located police station, sheriff court, social work service, child protection service and community justice authority. The CJA element is interesting, given that that is a regionalised approach to rehabilitating offenders; after all, the previous Labour approach had been to have a central agency to carry out such work. That was a solution to a problem that ensured continuing local services. It is to the eternal credit of Ian Jenkins and Jim Wallace that that facility is now efficient and effective and is still in the heart of the community.

When we hear the rather simplistic view from the Conservatives and the confused view from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, there is no faith that the local approach will be carried on. If we use the corollary from the Conservative approach and the example happened again, it would be impossible to create the framework to have that local solution. For example, Hawick police station, which is part of the old structure within G division of Lothian and Borders Police, would simply be closed because there would be no local focus on ensuring that there are local solutions. That is why we mean it when we say that a centralisation approach puts at risk the delivery of local services. We are not simply saying it.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that police stations are being closed throughout the country under the current structure?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

The point that I am trying to make is that there are alternative solutions in those areas if there are co-located police stations. I am sure that there are many of them in the Highlands. There are some in the Borders, but there needs to be more in the Borders.

If we are considering the cost pressures that exist, we have two options. There is the option of considering co-located community services in community hubs that a local authority, a police body and other public sector bodies can work to, or we can simply strip out layers. Layers will be stripped out. That is not an assertion from us. We know that because the record already exists, and I see it happening in the Borders.

In the autumn of 2007, before the budget reductions and some of the pressures to which the cabinet secretary alluded—unfortunately, the cabinet secretary is no longer in the chamber—the Government changed the local enterprise network in the Borders. Mr Fraser was simply wrong to say that the previous Government removed local delivery of tourism services from our areas. That happened in the autumn of 2007. Beforehand, when the Scottish Tourist Board became VisitScotland, local area delivery was protected. The VisitScotland Selkirk office was the Borders operation that delivered Borders tourism services with discretional budgets. The Conservative party supported the changes in the autumn of 2007. We brought the issue to the chamber to be debated and voted on. It was in 2007 that the tourism office in the Borders was merged with Dumfries and Galloway services, simply to offer the services that had been delivered by Scottish Enterprise Borders.

When the Borders had Scottish Enterprise Borders and a distinct local tourism office, the area had an economic development ability with discretional spend and an active local board of non-executive members that focused on the distinct needs of the Borders economy. One of the fundamental arguments is about whether local areas have distinct needs that require distinct approaches and distinct methods of delivery. In the area that I represent in the Borders, all of those are covered.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I am not clear whether Jeremy Purvis is arguing in favour of a separate police force for the Borders. Is that what he is proposing?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am arguing to retain G division of Lothian and Borders Police because there has always been a focus on that area. The point that is being made—I am sure that George Foulkes is aware of it—is that G division of Lothian and Borders Police is coterminous with Scottish Borders Council and Borders NHS Board. It was coterminous with Scottish Enterprise and the tourism office. SEB has been stripped away and tourism has been stripped away by the Scottish Government.

Under the Labour Party’s proposals, there would be no coterminous operation of the police, and we simply do not know what its health and care proposals are. As Iain Gray has said, it is looking at reducing the number of territorial health boards, and Labour’s social care policy is rather confused. It is my preference, as the local MSP, to retain coterminous public bodies that can gain savings and efficiencies by coming together in many areas and delivering services rather than having more centralised quangos.

Given the stark statistic that there are more police at an old firm game in Glasgow than there are in the entire Borders, what will the direction of policing and local priorities be if there is a central police agency for Scotland? One chief of police will answer to one justice minister, sitting alongside another, as happened in a summit this week. The Borders will be the poorer and local services will be under threat.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The motion talks about police, fire and social work services, but we need a debate that gets beyond the propaganda and into the proposals. Too often, a motion poses many questions but offers no solutions. The motion today appears to be empty of answers that will deal with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In the Northern Constabulary area, there has been yet another Lib Dem petition, with photographs of members and candidates outside the Dingwall area police headquarters, claiming that the headquarters would close down if there was a centralised police force. On which facts is that based? Fears at propaganda level are being spread by candidates, who claim that the Liberals are the party of decentralisation and that everyone else is against it.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Indeed, but the fact is that the SNP has removed ring fencing and many other things. In the SNP’s long history, we have been for taking power as close to the people as possible.

Why are we having this debate now, when cash cuts are being imposed from London—for whatever reason—and the solutions that we must find have to ensure that the cut fits the cloth?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I will not, at the moment. I want to deal with decentralisation.

Community planning is said to be an important issue, but when have we heard any suggestions about community decision making in the proposals from the Liberal Democrats? That would involve an expensive but necessary reform of local government structures. People can talk till the cows come home about what they think should be done locally, but people do not currently have the powers to do those things. I would be happy to have that debate.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I will not, at the moment, thank you.

On social work, I have been asking about the relationship between the council and the health board on the pilot that is going on in the Highland Council area at the moment. We want to ensure that responsibility for social work services for adults and the elderly will be with Highland NHS Board. We want to ensure that there is transparency and that communities of all sizes are served by the proposals. I am the person who is arguing for those things. On Monday, at a national health service board meeting that was called to discuss that, no Liberal Democrat was present. Yet again, the Lib Dems talk about protecting communities, but they do not attend the meetings at which such issues are discussed. That happens a lot. Like other health boards, NHS Highland needs to be watched. I would like the health board to be more accountable, but we have to have the argument about how that can happen.

I want to talk about the police service’s views. In a letter to me, the assistant secretary of the northern branch of the Scottish Police Federation said:

“Every effort must be made to ensure that whatever the resultant structures the people who have elected you to represent them are afforded representation which is in their best interests to ensure current service provision is maintained and protected.”

My view is that the area commanders should be responsible, on a six-weekly basis, to local area committees of elected unitary authority councillors. The police board is one eighth of councillors, but all councillors should be involved. While that goes on, the area inspector can be attending a community council meeting in Wick and discussing vandalism, boy racers and issues related to closed circuit television. That would not stop. It is the kind of activity that goes on now—it will continue and is not threatened. However, if we were to listen to the Liberal Democrats, we would believe that that is precisely the kind of activity that the proposals for a modern police service would threaten. Not at all.

The debate is about how to deal with the modern police service. The police need to be able to deploy methods that are suitable for the type of crimes that specific areas face. Smaller police forces need to call in specialists for particular activities. Northern Constabulary has to pay for armed officers when the royal family are in our area. Part of the problem is that, in small communities, we need to find economies of scale. We need a debate on the services that people want from the police in the future, but that debate is not part of the Liberal Democrats’ propaganda exercise ahead of the election. They claim that they will protect communities and that everybody else is against that. The substance of my argument is that that is not true.

With budgets being slashed, we have to ask how the morale of the police will be affected by the United Kingdom measures to cut the employer’s contribution to police pensions by making police pay more for their pensions. That undermining of morale is happening in police services throughout Britain as a result of measures by the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Government in London. Frankly, when we look at the details, we find a different set of arguments to which people want answers, but to which the motion provides absolutely no answers at all.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on local services, which has been introduced by the Liberal Democrats. All members will be well aware from their constituency surgeries of the importance of local services. A flood of constituents come through the doors to talk about issues such as housing, crime and education.

The debate is about how we interact with and improve local services. However, the logic of the Liberal Democrat motion, in opposing single police and fire services and saying that those would undermine local delivery, is absolutely incorrect in the current circumstances. I have to wonder at the commitment of the Liberal Democrat group to that cause and the motion, given that there are only five Liberal Democrats in the chamber, during a debate that their party has introduced. [Interruption.] Maybe Mr Hume should go round the MSP offices and round up some support for his cause.

In examining the case for single police and fire services, the starting point has to be the financial situation. It is absolutely clear that £1.3 billion of cuts are being driven from the coalition at Westminster in the coming year’s budget and that, in the years to come, there will be further cuts of billions of pounds. That must be considered carefully. The Justice Committee has heard evidence that the way in which the cuts have been addressed in the Scottish budget will result in 1,200 police support workers losing their jobs. The effect of that will be that police officers will not be able to spend the same amount of time on the beat as they do now, because they will be brought back to police offices to carry out jobs that are undertaken by support staff.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I accept that point, which is one that we have been making for some time. On the savings that James Kelly uses as the basis of his justification for supporting a single police force, can he say when those savings would kick in? We have not heard that from the Government yet. Would it be four or five years down the line, as seems to be the case from the information that we have had?

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I will deal later in my speech with how the proposal will save money.

We face a situation in which the effectiveness of police on the beat is already being undermined by the budget situation in which we find ourselves. When we look at the proposed budget cuts in England and Wales, it is quite clear that, if we stand still, public safety will be undermined and the ability of the police to carry out their roles effectively under the current structures will be seriously under threat.

The same principles apply in the fire service. That is why the Fire Brigades Union Scotland has taken a proactive approach to the issue. It represents the rights of firefighters, but it is also close to the interests of public safety and believes that if we are going to have a model that not only protects firefighter and police numbers but delivers public safety, we need to move away from the current structure and consider an alternative.

It stands to reason that money can be saved by moving away from a structure that involves eight police authorities and eight fire boards. We do not need eight human resources divisions, eight information technology divisions and eight central services departments and all the buildings that house those sections.

We should also consider fleet management. If we had a central service that managed the procurement of police cars, fire engines and so on throughout Scotland, we could make substantial savings. There are examples of that south of the border, such as in the Metropolitan Police. Obviously, there will be short-term costs involved in setting up the new structures, but it stands to reason that moving from eight organisations to one organisation will enable savings to be made.

The Liberal Democrats’ argument is that centralisation would result in poor delivery of services and a decline in local accountability. However, I see the move to a single service as being an opportunity to enhance and build on local accountability. For example, there is currently limited opportunity for the community in Cambuslang to liaise with Cambuslang fire station. However, under our new proposal, which seeks to give people a say at ward level, we could introduce a structure to give people the ability to interact more proactively with the police and fire service at local level.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a bit of hypocrisy in the Liberal Democrats’ position. They are calling for the structures in Scotland to remain in place at a time when Danny Alexander is bringing forward proposals that will cut 28,000 jobs south of the border.

The Scottish National Party’s position is confused. Last week, Dave Thompson told us that he supports a four-region structure and, yesterday, Bob Doris was on television telling us that we would not be able to know the position until the outcome of the consultation. The SNP is divided on this issue. There are disagreements within its group. That is why the cabinet secretary, who has previously been supportive of a single force, has rolled back from that position—he wants to cover up the cracks within the SNP group. The SNP is going into the election with a divided position.

It is absolutely clear to me that we are going to protect the delivery of local services. If there is a fire in Fernhill in my constituency, I want fire fighters there, not HR consultants. If there is a gang fight in Cambuslang, I want police officers there, not management consultants.

We need to look to new models to rebuild local accountability and deliver a structure that will provide improved public services.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

It is unsurprising that the Liberal Democrats have chosen to debate local services. They are clutching at straws—no, at one very thin straw—as they face up to a humiliating slump in their support because of their stance on student fees and the deep and damaging cuts that they are making as members of the Westminster coalition. They took a humiliating sixth place in a recent by-election.

Forgive me if I am wrong but, in all the budget discussions and parliamentary debates, I do not remember the Liberal Democrats asking for the justice budget to be protected. Did they? I do not remember that. The Liberal Democrats are cynically deceiving the public by claiming that the status quo is an option when it is not—[Interruption.] As usual, Mr Rumbles shouts from a sedentary position.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Not yet—let me continue.

What is important to people is the number of police officers who patrol their communities, of whom there are 1,036 more under the SNP than there were at the end of the previous Administration, of which the Liberal Democrats were a part.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will Maureen Watt respond to ACPOS’s comment that the claimed potential saving of £197 million would be achievable only

“through the loss of thousands of officers and support staff”?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

ACPOS’s view is only one of many. At least the SNP has engaged with people. I understand that the Liberal Democrats have not been in touch with the FBU or the fire services to find out their feelings.

Police numbers correlate with a falling crime rate, which has reached its lowest level for 32 years. Against the background of a shrinking budget, the overriding priority is to maintain police numbers. Wild claims of massive reductions in police numbers from a single force are ludicrous and scaremongering. The Liberal Democrats at Westminster are taking 12,000 police officers off the streets in England, while the SNP is keeping police on the streets in Scotland. The wild claims of massive reductions do those who make them no credit at all. The chance of police numbers falling will be far greater if no structural reform is made as the Westminster cuts continue to bite.

The Liberal Democrats talk about local accountability, but true local accountability is at present patchy. Many chief constables hide behind the tag of operational matters instead of being open and accountable to their joint police boards. In times of financial stringency, should chief constables receive thousands of pounds in performance-related bonuses? Where was the local accountability recently when Grampian joint police board’s convener—a Liberal Democrat—wanted to discuss the board’s response to the consultation behind closed doors? The discussion was delayed and was not in public. When the cabinet secretary discusses the future with that board shortly, he will discuss board members’ individual views and not the view of the board as a whole.

We can ask the people of Parkhead in Glasgow whether they feel that local accountability exists. Glasgow’s east end is prone to a high rate of house fires and fire deaths, but Parkhead’s local fire station was closed as a result of decisions that were taken by councillors from Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute. Is it sensible that retained fire personnel in Stornoway are told which streets to cover for fire prevention by people in Inverness rather than by personnel on the ground who know the streets and households that have more fire risk? Is it sensible that, if Tayside fire personnel are called to help at an incident outside their area, they need to return to Dundee to refill their breathing apparatus, because fire boards have different BA sets? Fire services even use different sizes of fire hose.

As the Liberal Democrats in Westminster impose massive cuts on Scotland, it is only right that we should consider how to deliver services in the most efficient way possible. As James Kelly said, do 32 local authorities, eight police boards, eight fire boards and 14 health boards all need their own procurement, human resources, IT and other back-office departments? In the face of the cuts, funding that type of duplication is simply not sustainable.

Given the tenor of the debate so far, every party in the chamber bar the Liberal Democrats recognises the severity of the budget cuts and supports the Government in consulting on the shape of local service delivery, which will be influenced by the priorities of the ordinary people, one of which is safer streets.

Unsustainable bureaucracies have blossomed under current structures. The shape of bureaucracy in the police force is an equilateral triangle and in the fire service it is cylindrical. I understand that a recent shift in Dumfries and Galloway comprised five front-line firefighters and 43 back-office staff. Is that the right balance? I do not think so.

There is an opportunity to reduce duplication of effort, deliver services efficiently and increase local accountability and flexibility. Claiming that that is not the case, as the Liberal Democrats are doing, is completely disingenuous but utterly typical of the party’s approach to politics.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Although I do not often agree with Maureen Watt, I am happy to do so today. Her opening sentences were particularly insightful. This debate is more about the Lib Dems searching for a dividing line for the election, which is desperate stuff indeed.

As other members have shown, the Lib Dems’ talk does not match up to their actions in government in Scotland or in the United Kingdom coalition with the Tories. I say to Robert Brown and Jeremy Purvis as gently as I can that, following a debate in the Parliament in which the national care service was mentioned, I e-mailed the Lib Dems to offer discussions and explain our approach, but I never heard back from them. If there is confusion on Jeremy Purvis’s part, it is entirely his fault.

I have worked in local government and the voluntary sector. Indeed, for much of my working life, I have supported and valued community development approaches and community capacity building. I will take no lessons from the Liberals on localism, particularly not when they are acting as handmaidens to the Tories, who are intent on wrecking the NHS—or is dismantling the NHS by giving doctors a commissioning budget an example of their new-found localism in action? If it is, we do not want any of it.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The last time I looked, the NHS was a devolved responsibility in Scotland.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Oh, but by your actions you will be known. How the Liberal Democrats operate in the rest of the UK is of clear interest to people in Scotland.

Let us look at what the Liberal Democrats are doing in our capital city, where real changes are taking place. There are cuts in social work budgets and services for the elderly and the closure of nurseries. Those are attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Frankly, if that is an example of localism in action under the Lib Dems, they can keep it.

Unfortunately, the Lib Dems have got it wrong again. I will leave it to other members to talk more eloquently than I can about the police and fire services; I will focus on social work services and Labour’s proposal for a national care service. Three parties in the chamber—the Conservatives, SNP and Labour—believe that there is a greater need for integration between the NHS and social work. For others to argue that there is a centralising tendency in our approach lacks intellectual rigour. The argument fails to recognise the scale of the challenge that we face with increasing numbers of older people. The demographic change will be significant. I expect that the Minister for Public Health and Sport will trot out a plethora of statistics on the subject, but the figure that stands out for me is that there will be 75 per cent more 75-year-olds in about 20 to 25 years’ time. There will be many more older people and an increased demand on services. Simply adopting the status quo is not an option.

Most if not all of us agree that working together is essential. The joint future strategy is now 11 years old. That policy was about encouraging local government and the NHS to work together to pool budgets and join up their services but, frankly, the results have been patchy. In some areas, there has been excellent joint working; in others, relationships can best be described as dysfunctional. The tragedy is that people still fall through the gaps.

I have a constituent who saw an occupational therapist in the acute sector, an OT in the primary care sector and an OT in the council. All of them are great OTs, but the constituent still had to wait six months to get the aid that they needed. It is not right that, in a country the size of Scotland, there is a huge postcode lottery in care. Can anyone genuinely explain to me why a particular service costs a couple in West Dunbartonshire £35 a week, whereas in neighbouring Argyll and Bute—five minutes away—it costs £300? Is that the kind of localism that the Liberals want? The scale of cuts that social work services and community groups that sustain so many people in our local areas are currently feeling will have a negative impact on older people.

Ninety-three per cent of older people do not come into contact with formal care, which is great. They are sustained by friends, families, carers, their local library, their lunch club, their befriending project and their Age Concern branch. However, those are some of the very services that are being cut.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour


Doing nothing in the face of all those challenges is a recipe for disaster. Labour would create a national care service, sitting within the NHS—not a new agency, as the Liberals mistakenly believe, but a service based on local integrated teams, delivering in communities and managed by reformed community health partnerships. We would have new governance arrangements, putting elected members in charge and increasing accountability.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour


I point out to the Liberals that there are 20 more community health partnerships than there are local authorities, making them a much more local unit of accountability than is currently the case. I hope that that is welcome. We would provide local delivery, local management, new local accountability, a national framework setting minimum expectations and local budgets. We would deliver what older people tell us they want—fairness and consistency, and to know that care will be provided, should they ever need it.

I return to the 93 per cent who do not come into contact with care. Our new dialogue must be about prevention, which is key. We know that, unless we provide general community facilities and support, more older people will need to engage with the care system earlier. Unless we provide people with appropriate care packages in their homes, sustaining them in their communities, inevitably they will end up at the front door of their local hospital as admissions. We have talked in the chamber about shifting the balance of care, but that has not happened to the degree that is required. The money remains locked in the health sector and, on the ground, local authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to fund prevention work, never mind care packages.

Of course, there are two different cultures in health and social work. Both are respected and valued, and there is a key role for social work moving forward. However, both are united by their common purpose, which is to focus on the needs of older people and to deliver the best possible outcomes. With the exception of the Liberals, we recognise the need to bring the services closer together if we are to meet the challenges that lie ahead. From their motion and the contributions that they have made so far, it appears that the Liberals want us to stand still. If we do that, we will fail this and the next generation of older people in Scotland.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

This is an interesting Lib Dem motion. For the second week in a row, they have chosen to debate this matter. Anyone would think that they cared about local services, but is that really the case?

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

If Mr Hume will bear with me, I will explain why I said that.

The motion criticises

“the apparently endless desire on the part of centralising national politicians to attempt to take over control of local services”.

However, have the Lib Dems thought that through, or have they just not realised that the real centralisers are their very own Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and the rest of the motley crew at Westminster? Is this just more of the hypocrisy that we are used to hearing from the Lib Dems? After all, they are hypocrites par excellence. At the moment, they are happily centralising the Ministry of Defence in the south-east of England, to the great detriment of Scotland. They are happily centralising the coastguard, with little thought about the north of Scotland. They are happily centralising the Stornoway and Lerwick tugs, by withdrawing funding and leaving it to the private sector.

However, perhaps I have misjudged the Lib Dems. Perhaps they realise the full impact of their motion and have written to their centralising leader, Nick Clegg, opposing the centralising decisions that he is taking. Then again, maybe pigs will fly.

The Lib Dem motion also says that they want a new approach from Government

“that trusts local people to make good decisions for their areas”.

Is that not just more of their hypocrisy? Where was their desire to trust the people of Scotland to make good decisions when they watered down their own Calman proposals? Where was their desire to trust the people of Scotland to make good decisions when they vetoed a referendum on the future of Scotland?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The member said that we vetoed the referendum bill on independence for Scotland. Can he remind us when the nationalist Government brought forward its referendum bill?

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

Mr Rumbles’s leader, Tavish Scott, made it clear at a very early stage in this session of Parliament that the Lib Dems would not support giving the people of Scotland the chance to have their say on the future of Scotland, which is something that we would have thought the Lib Dems would have been all in favour of.

To add to their hypocrisy, as Rob Gibson has said, the Lib Dems are misleading people on these issues and on the position of other parties by distributing election leaflets on policing in the north that contain a number of untruths. For instance, the Lib Dems state in one leaflet, which I have before me, that

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

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The statement in that leaflet is patently untrue. As the cabinet secretary has explained—perhaps Mr Rumbles should listen for a change instead of shouting—there is a consultation on the go, which offers three options for the future. No decisions have been made. In fact, some people would call the statements in the Lib Dem leaflet lies, but I could not possibly do that.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

The member mentioned the consultation. Can he tell us which option he will go for? Will he go for the status quo or for four police boards, or will he put in a submission saying that there should be a single force?

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

I will come to that point later in my speech so, if Mr Hume sits back comfortably for a wee while, I will let him know.

In the same leaflet, the Lib Dems state that

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

Where do they get such nonsense from? To suggest that a single police force will be 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 might give Mr Purvis a chance in a wee minute, but let me make some progress.

For the sake of clarity, 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.

The Government has rightly not taken a position on the matter. Of the three options, I do not believe that the current set-up, with eight chief constables and the associated management costs, is tenable, so some reduction is inevitable. Those who advocate the retention of the current model must tell us how they will pay for it and keep a record number of police on the beat.

However, Mr Hume should know that I do have concerns about a single force model, as there is a danger that we will in effect swap control from Inverness for control from Glasgow or Edinburgh, with a loss of decision-making power and senior posts from the north of Scotland. That is a real danger. There is also the issue of who polices the police. Currently, another force would be called in to do that and to deal with a complaint, so we need to know how such situations would be dealt with.

I am pleased that the cabinet secretary has acknowledged those dangers 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.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Before Dave Thompson finishes, can he comment on ACPOS’s statement that there would be a loss of thousands of officers and support staff and on how that fits with his proposition that there will be improved services and so on?

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

I have no doubt that such comments are genuinely believed, but it seems to me that they are a bit of an exaggeration. We need only consider the facts of the matter. In previous reorganisations, the opposite happened. Let us go by experience and not surmise.

My preference is for a four-force model, in which Northern Constabulary would be expanded to take in Moray and Argyll, which face issues that are similar to the issues that the current Northern Constabulary areas face. I have been pressing the option for some time. It would give us an expanded Northern Constabulary of around 1,300 police officers, which would cover a population of about 450,000 and an area of 15,000 square miles, with a budget of about £70 million. The expanded force would be a substantial organisation.

I have an open mind on the three other forces in Scotland. Maybe Grampian Police and Tayside Police could merge. Strathclyde Police could join with Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. Lothian and Borders Police might merge with Fife Constabulary and Central Scotland Police.

Although I favour the four-force model and have made that clear to the Government, I look forward to hearing the arguments of the people who favour a single force. I want to hear how such a force 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 Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I have listened with interest to the Liberal Democrats and, like other members, I am shaking my head in wonder. It seems that they have a face for every door and a different comment for every door. That is typical of the Liberals.

Labour’s proposals for a single police service, a national fire and rescue service and a national care service would benefit vulnerable people in society, cut down on red tape and redirect money to be spent on things that matter to the public. I have put on record my support for a single police force and can see no logic behind the Liberal Democrats’ argument. A universal force could save money. More important, it would make policing more efficient and put money where it is needed.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I need to make progress.

My constituency, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, falls within the jurisdiction of Strathclyde Police, and I whole-heartedly agree with Chief Constable Stephen House, who last month expressed his support for a single Scottish police force. He said:

“We would not need a series of ad hoc mutual aid agreements. If a major incident happened, we would not need a series of hurried phone calls between forces regarding resources. We would be able to act as one organisation to make sure that what was needed was done.”

Police would be able to respond more quickly to large-scale incidents, as the cabinet secretary pointed out.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

How does the member think that her constituents in Cumbernauld would feel if the chief constable of a new single force were to be located in Aberdeen?

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

In this time of modern communications, I do not think that where the chief constable is located is important.

The Liberal Democrats seem to think that there is a conspiracy against Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary and that a single force will focus on the central belt. I am pleased that Chief Constable House agrees with me that that is no more than scaremongering. A Liberal Democrat councillor has compared the power that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice would gain if there were a single police force to the power of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. That is wholly untrue. The suggestion is careless, irresponsible and ludicrous.

What people want is a police force that meets their aspirations at local level. We do not need multiple administrative functions and senior officers. People in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth want local community policing. They want to see police on the beat. When they make contact with the police by telephone, they want to speak to people who know what they are talking about. They want to see civilian staff behind the desks, so that the police can be out on the streets doing the job that they are trained to do.

A single force will allow redistribution of funding so that we can spend money in communities and on having police on the streets, rather than spending money on administrators in central offices.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

The crux of much of our concern is the issue of police on the streets, but on whose streets? Is there not a danger that there will not be an equitable distribution of police resources under a centralised national force, that resources will all be drawn towards the centre, where the biggest amount of crime takes place, and that it will be much harder for areas of lower crime to secure enough police?

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

No, I do not agree with that at all. People are far too professional to allow that to happen. The police have to respond to the needs of a community.

Somebody mentioned Parkhead earlier, and I think that it was Jeremy Purvis who mentioned old firm games. Of course policing is required when there are tens of thousands of people gathering—more than are needed in a small town or village. Those are professional decisions, taken by professionals.

The proposal for a national fire and rescue service has wide support. The people who do the job know that it can be done better and more cost effectively if resources are targeted to the front line, not to bureaucracy.

I will move on to Labour’s proposals for a national care service. Jackie Baillie explained our position on this very well. I am proud to be a member of the party that established the national health service and the wider welfare state in the aftermath of the second world war. In times of hardship, particularly economic hardship, it is important that politicians step up to the plate and make decisions that will benefit the lives of the people who elected us to serve. The national care service will provide a consistent approach to caring for our elderly population. I am sure that I am no different from other members, who will have heard stories of terrible cases where an elderly person has spent a period of time in hospital; they and their family may have tried hard to get a care package set up, for instance, but have ended up feeling that they have been thrown from pillar to post, between the local council and the national health service, with no one taking responsibility for the package of care that is needed.

About a year and a half ago, I had a meeting in a constituent’s living room. There were 12 professionals there, some representing the NHS and some representing the local council. It took those 12 people to try and set up a care package to meet the complex needs of the individual concerned—and that was after months during which my constituent had been trying to get things organised herself. Surely that is not right. As Jackie Baillie pointed out, there is duplication, with people seemingly doing the same job. Instead, we could bring it all together and have the job done better with one organisation taking responsibility. I think that we could do that under a national care service. Budgets are tight, and we have to consider ways to spend money wisely.

Presiding Officer, I am just waiting for you to intervene to tell me that it is time that I was sitting down. I will pre-empt you and come to my conclusion.

The Liberal Democrats are against a single police force, which would improve efficiency. They are against a national care service for Scotland, which would benefit the elderly and the vulnerable in our community. They are against a national fire and rescue service, which would direct money right to the front line, rather than to the bureaucrats behind their desks. They are against moving and changing with the times. They have come to the chamber today to slam the proposals that others have put forward, but they do not have any proposals themselves. As I said earlier, they have a face for every door, but they do not have the policy detail. It is farcical.

The Liberal Democrats have sold their souls to the Tories, and the SNP has spent four years promising so much and delivering so little. Neither of those parties can be surprised if they never again gain the support of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

There is much in the tone of the Liberal Democrat motion with which I am naturally sympathetic. The centralisation of service provision is indeed something that should be avoided in order that local accountability, which the motion alludes to, is enhanced. However, the Liberal Democrats cannot have it all ways. They cannot devote as much energy as they have done to keeping the Parliament subjugated to the authority of Westminster and simultaneously claim to be both democrats, which they have proven themselves not to be, and decentralists. Neither can they so enthusiastically prop up the most damaging policies of excessive, too-deep-too-fast, public sector cuts that we have seen in a generation from the Liberal Democrats south of the border while blocking moves to save millions of pounds on administering out-of-date systems for fire and police boards, each with its own bureaucracy. They cannot cut and then refuse to cut the bureaucracy. They cannot have it both ways.

I understand why the Liberal Democrats want to make their points—as a symbolic, easy-hit campaign tool a few weeks ahead of a Scottish election—but I do not accept that their intentions carry anything even remotely resembling the Scottish national interest. The Scottish Government stands for the Scottish national interest above all else, which is why, in the face of serious budget cuts, plans to amalgamate police and fire services seem immeasurably preferable to the alternative loss of front-line services and the damaging effect that it would have if the Lib Dems had their way.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Can Bob Doris shed any light on the question that I have asked before? When will the savings, so called, kick in? Will it be during the period of the current comprehensive spending review, for example?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

We cannot have a consultation process while working out the final details and then micromanage savings. Mr Brown should get on board with the consensus and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Given the choice between an organisational structure in Scottish policing that fits the admittedly attractive-sounding philosophy behind the Liberal Democrat motion and the maintenance and expansion of the SNP policy of extra police, I will choose the extra police every time. It is the sign of a good Government that priorities are decided on the results that make Scotland a better place to live in, and with recorded crime at a 32-year low, I tend to think that most people in Scotland would prefer policies that focus on protecting their rights as citizens to live free from the horrors of crime over cutting police. The crime statistics tell me that there are about 1,100 extra police officers since 2007. They are simply not expendable, so a responsible Scottish Government has to take steps to maintain those numbers.

I welcome this debate, as it is of course the stated intention of the Government to listen and to consult widely before enacting any proposals. However, it is clear that there will be savings for the public purse. The interim report of the sustainable policing project estimates annual savings of £197 million for a single police force. Opponents are free to argue that that is not the case and that no savings will be realised, but I do not think that that position is objective. Any politician who seeks to oppose such plans on ideological grounds will have to explain any figures that they have sourced and where they would get their money from.

There are problems with the Liberal Democrats’ motion on a number of levels, but I will elaborate on just two. First, the sheer alarmism of the wording makes me think that the Lib Dems’ main interest is to create headlines for the election campaign, not to offer the constructive input that the Parliament needs. It is not often that the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the SNP all get together to seek the interests of the Scottish people, while the Lib Dems are left standing on the sidelines. Let it be noted that the Lib Dems are on the sidelines this morning.

On social work, for example, the motion states that we will be

“destroying those successful local initiatives that are already in place”.

The Lib Dems need to name them and tell us why they will be destroyed. Serious concerns need to be aired as part of a process of constructive politics, but when the policy intention is clearly to protect services in difficult times, it is simply not good enough to create even more fear and alarm without explaining in convincing detail what could be made worse or suggesting how to make matters better. The Lib Dems are offering nothing in this debate except service cuts on a cheque signed off from their Government at Westminster.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

The member said that we are not offering anything. We are actually offering to keep local accountability. Can I read a small quotation and see what his answer to it is? This is from a Hawick policeman:

“There is nothing more precious than local knowledge, especially in the police force. I have seen at first hand centralisation in the police force. Many have never even heard of the Borders, never mind knowing where it is.”

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I could not hear all of that, but let me tell the member about local knowledge in Strathclyde, where there is already devolution of decision making, despite the large size of the police force. In Possil in Maryhill, there are dispersal orders in place as a result of the local knowledge of local police officers and local decision making on the ground. If that is happening in Strathclyde, why cannot it happen within a national structure? The Lib Dem position is completely untenable. [Interruption.]

Mr Purvis may wish to intervene.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Excuse me, Mr Purvis. If you have an intervention to make, would you get to your feet, please?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I apologise, Presiding Officer. I thank the member for letting me in after my unwarranted sedentary comment. My point was that it is clear that the member has made up his mind that there should be one police force for Scotland.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Quite the opposite, Mr Purvis. I am taking part in the debate because I remain to be convinced on what the best structure is and because I want to inform myself. This morning, I have had information from the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the SNP Scottish Government, but I have had absolutely nothing from the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps the best structure would be a national force; perhaps it would involve two or three forces. I do not know what the final solution is, but I know that it is necessary to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

When it comes to the final framework for the police force, the ink is not even on the paper as yet, never mind dry. I urge the Lib Dems not to seek headlines, but to pursue the interests of the Scottish people by getting on board and joining the consensus in the chamber.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Like you, Presiding Officer, I am not seeking re-election in May. I will genuinely miss the friendship of many committed and hard-working members of the Scottish Parliament—including you, Presiding Officer—from all parties. I do not think that it is yet fully recognised around the country how hard working members are, and I will do my best to spread that around.

I will also miss these overwhelmingly exciting debates, but I will not miss the sanctimonious, holier-than-thou sermons from some of the Liberal Democrats, in which they preach rather than debate.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Does the member expect the excitement level to rise when he returns to the House of Lords?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

It is certainly more exciting when I am there than when I am not. That is for sure.

The Liberal Democrats keep trying to represent themselves as the nice party, the one that is different from the Tories and the Labour Party and the Punch and Judy show that they put on, but now the difference between Liberal Democrats in opposition and Liberal Democrats in government has been exposed at Westminster. As Jackie Baillie said, they are handmaidens to the Tories; I would say that they are the Tories’ little helpers.

The mantra that keeps being repeated, which we heard again from John Lamont, is that the excuse for their doctrinaire cuts—which is what the cuts that we are getting from Westminster are—is the Labour Government’s mismanagement of the economy.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Och—in a moment.

At no point during the 13 years of the Labour Government did I ever hear a Liberal Democrat or, indeed, a Tory say, “Spend less,” “Don’t spend as much, Gordon,” or “Don’t spend all that, Alistair.” It was quite the reverse. They wanted more to be spent on the health service and on education—they argued that case again and again. They will not acknowledge that we have a worldwide economic crisis, which stemmed from sub-prime mortgages.

The scale of the cuts that are being enforced by the UK Government—Liberal Democrats as well as Tories—is not justified in any way. We see the U-turns of the Liberal Democrats and their real hypocrisy on tuition fees, on which they signed the pledge and then pretended that they had not. On bankers’ bonuses, they wanted swift action when they were in opposition, but in government they have done almost nothing. We are talking about the reorganisation of the police service. What could be more damaging to the police in Scotland and the UK than cutting the pay of the people who do the work?

Now the Liberal Democrats are behaving like the Keystone Kops. Vince Cable blurts out his hatred for Murdoch to an undercover reporter and, as a result, loses the power to decide. Nick Clegg forgets that he is in charge as the Deputy Prime Minister and goes off on a skiing holiday to Klosters. That is not to mention David Laws. No wonder they got the Barnsley chop and came in in sixth place. They were not just behind the British National Party and the UK Independence Party; they were even behind an independent candidate. That is a real humiliation for the Lib Dems, and it will come to them in Scotland, too.

Locally, the disenchantment with the Liberal Democrats is reflected right here in Edinburgh. Jenny Dawe might not yet be quite as unpopular as Nick Clegg, but we should give it time. Councillor Dawe is certainly heading that way as a result of her shambolic performance as leader of City of Edinburgh Council. Antipathy towards the Lib Dems has already been reflected in the recent by-elections in Liberton and Gilmerton, when they were trounced by the Labour Party.

Councillor Dawe has demonstrated the same astonishing level of arrogance as Nick Clegg, most recently in her handling of the gathering 2009 affair. Our own Public Audit Committee unanimously—including Nicol Stephen—deemed the evidence of the leader of the council to be not credible.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Perhaps we could have some guidance on what on earth all this has to do with the motion that is before us.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I have been keeping my eye on that. As George Foulkes comes back in, I ask him to keep his eye on the motion to which he is speaking.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

This is all about localism. Mr Brown might have a desire to take over from you as Deputy Presiding Officer, but I hope that in May the electorate will ensure that that is not possible.

Councillor Dawe could have held up her hands and accepted the conclusions in the Public Audit Committee’s report, but what did she do? She blackened the names of some of the council officials.

Then we have the shambles of the implementation of the trams project. [Interruption.] I am talking about Liberal Democrats in power locally and making comparisons. If we look at what they do—their arrogance over the gathering and their incompetence over the trams—we know what they are like in power.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Would the member make those same comments about the Liberal Democrats who supported the Labour Party in a coalition Government for the first eight years of the Parliament’s existence? Is he still so critical of Liberal Democrats when we work with Labour?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

Yes. The one thing about Mike Rumbles is that he talks and talks and talks, but he seldom listens. The only way to learn—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Mr Foulkes, just be careful about what you are saying. We are talking about local services.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

The only way to learn is to listen, not to talk, and Rumbles never listens.

I am talking about localism and the funding cuts that have been led by Councillor Dawe. The most recent cuts, to the disabled workforce, have put people’s lives at risk. The work that is being done by disabled people in Edinburgh gives them fulfilment and a sense of purpose. It is particularly shocking that Councillor Dawe even thought about jeopardising their independence in the first place.

The Community union, along with the other unions that are represented at Blindcraft, has organised a march on Parliament today to call on Scotland’s political leaders to save the organisation. I urge the Scottish Government to do all that it can to save Blindcraft and come outside at 12.30 to join the demonstrators.

When we look at Edinburgh and Aberdeen locally, whether we are looking at the police service or the fire service or tuition fees, we see Liberal Democrats in power and we see the hypocrisy of them doing something totally different, and saying something totally different, from what they did when they were in opposition.

I will miss a lot of the friendships that I have made here, but I will not miss the preaching of those sermons, particularly from the Liberal Democrat front bench.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Notwithstanding how much I enjoyed Lord Foulkes’s speech, I will try to address the terms of the motion that is before us. I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for bringing the debate to the chamber, as it allows us to explore issues of local accountability and perhaps to contrast what the Lib Dems say today with their past record.

Before I get into that, I must first agree with James Kelly—I see that he has momentarily left the chamber—on how disappointing it is that there have been so few Liberal Democrats in the chamber for the debate this morning. We started the debate with only 11 Liberal Democrats present when Robert Brown got on his feet. That number fell to five, and throughout most of the debate there have been only six present in the chamber. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats are getting the rest of us used to how things will be after May. Perhaps, as they sit and look round at the rows of empty seats in the chamber, they will be reminded of their conference in Perth last weekend.

In opening the debate, Robert Brown talked about the importance of local accountability and how the centralising approach that others are developing is anathema to the Lib Dems. Indeed, the motion states in glowing terms:

“the people of Scotland will be better served by a new approach from government that trusts local people to make good decisions for their areas”.

I checked the Liberal Democrats’ record in government, as I am sure Robert Brown would have expected me to do. I wonder where that concern for local accountability was when, as I mentioned earlier, the Liberal Democrats were part of a Government that scrapped the area tourist boards and took away the local democratic accountability from tourism? Where was that concern when the Liberal Democrats oversaw the scrapping of the three regional water boards and their absorption into Scottish Water as one national service?

Where was the new approach to which the motion refers that

“equips local government with the powers, levers and authority to drive innovation and improvement in local services” when for eight years the Lib Dems were part of a Government that ring fenced virtually every penny that went to local government? Where was the new approach to local accountability when Nicol Stephen, as a Lib Dem Minister for Transport, removed Strathclyde Passenger Transport’s rail powers and centralised it under Transport Scotland as part of the Scottish Government?

I understand the Liberal Democrats’ need to develop a narrative for the coming election, given the dire straits that they are in. However, we should judge them by their actions in government, not by their rhetoric today.

I turn to the issue of social care. I was a little confused when I saw the motion, as it refers to the centralisation of “social work”—in fact, it took Robert Brown to clarify that for us in his opening remarks, when he referred to social care, so I give two out of 10 to the drafter of the motion.

There is a serious problem with social care that is recognised on all sides of the chamber. We have separate budgets for these matters: social care is funded from local government, and yet hospital stays are funded from the NHS. That has created a concern that was highlighted by Lord Sutherland more than 10 years ago, as it has led to the problem of delayed discharge, which is familiar to all of us in the chamber. As somebody who represents Fife, I am painfully conscious of the problems with delayed discharge that there have been in that area recently. The Minister for Public Health and Sport has made great efforts to try to resolve a problem that has been caused in part by a council in which the Liberal Democrats have a leading role, but there are severe difficulties there.

The problems of delayed discharge are well known, and they cause human misery to those involved and to their families. What is more, delayed discharge costs the public sector: it is more expensive to keep people in hospital than to have them in a care setting, so it makes no sense. The other parties in the chamber have at least thought about that, and have solutions that all go in the same direction of travel. Our party supports the transfer of social care out of local government into the health service, the Labour Party supports a national care agency and the SNP supports lead commissioning. Those are different approaches, but they take us in the same direction. It is a pity, therefore, that the Liberal Democrats are out of step with the rest of us.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Murdo Fraser accept that running through that is a decision about the best way to tackle an admitted problem? Does he not accept that the centralising way is not the way to deal with the issue, which is crying out for a local solution?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I would welcome a solution from the Liberal Democrats. We have heard nothing from them on how they intend to tackle these serious problems. At least the other parties in the chamber, although we may differ in our approach, recognise that there is a problem and have the same direction of travel. It is a pity that we have heard nothing from the Liberal Democrats in that regard, but perhaps Mr Rumbles, if he makes a winding-up speech, will enlighten us about exactly what the Liberal Democrats propose on social care.

Richard Baker and other members have said that preserving the status quo in police structures will mean cuts to the number of front-line officers. The overriding priority for us in policing is to maximise the resources on the streets and the number of officers in uniform. We should not be wedded to historic structures. The world has moved on from where we were 30 years ago, so it is right that we now review where we are with the structure of policing. The point was well made by a number of members that if we reform the current structure, there will be cost savings and, of course, transitional costs, but in the longer run we will make savings, which can be reinvested in front-line services.

Liberal Democrat members have referred to the issue of local tensions and how they would be expanded if we had a national police force. However, local tensions already exist within Tayside, for example. People in Perth and Kinross ask why all the police resources are put into Dundee, and people in Angus ask why all the police resources are put into Perth. Such tensions already exist, but if we listened to the Liberal Democrats we would think that they would be a novel development.

Jeremy Purvis referred to G division in the Borders. I have no personal knowledge of policing in the Borders, but I know about the divisional structure in my area. There would be no reason at all for divisional structures to change simply because we moved from the current set-up of police forces to a single force or, indeed, four forces.

Rob Gibson referred to the dishonesty of Lib Dems in the Highlands protesting outside Dingwall police office. Again, I have no personal knowledge of policing in the Highlands, but I cannot imagine that it will be more likely that Dingwall police office will close as a result of a merger of police boards. In fact, I think that the opposite is the case, because if we do not take steps to reduce policing costs nationally, we will not have the money to sustain our local forces and local numbers. Of course, we also need to have accountability.

I agree with my colleague John Lamont on the crucial point that we have 1,000 extra police officers on Scotland’s streets thanks to the Conservatives. That is what matters to people, who want to see police in uniform on the streets deterring crime and providing visible reassurance. The Liberal Democrat priorities are clear: they would rather preserve their head offices, the chief constable salaries and the men in suits. That is not our choice.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

A lot of what we do in preparation for any debate in the Parliament is based on assumptions about what we expect others to say. We are surprised, occasionally, to find that our opponents’ arguments are not what we might have predicted. In that regard, I did not expect to hear what I did from Robert Brown and his Liberal Democrat colleagues. I am a little surprised that I did not hear the normal, sometimes even rational, Liberal fear of the big state and domineering Government. However, what I heard was Robert Brown and his colleagues being, to me at least, hysterical and talking baseless hogwash.

I usually consider Jeremy Purvis to be a rational communicator in the chamber, but his speech was like the reading of a screenplay from a disaster movie describing a barren wasteland where outlaws have taken over and the police have abandoned the Borders to its fate. That approach has no credibility whatsoever in a debate around an analysis of what is required at present to address the problems in our public services.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The problem behind the police force debate is that we have not had an analysis from the Government, nor have we had the basis of any figures. That is part of the difficulty.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

Robert Brown is simply adding to the kind of remarks that I have been describing. An analysis has been undertaken. Indeed, this issue has been under discussion for decades, never mind for the past few months since the budget cuts hove into view.

Robert Brown accuses Labour of bravado. However, what we want to do has the support of senior police officers and, as James Kelly pointed out, the Fire Brigades Union. Surely when we look at our local services it would be bravado to ignore those bodies and the pressures that are being brought to bear on them.

That said, Robert Brown made a fair point about the current position of the SNP, which seems to be trying to patch up its difficulties in different parts of the country. As representatives of the north, Rob Gibson, Dave Thompson and Maureen Watt will of course want to speak about the situation in that part of the country. However, it does not really help the debate to create geographical divisions by talking about where a particular headquarters should be located or what services should be run from the north rather than from the west or the south. We have to get away from that when we discuss police services. We have to get away from the kind of ludicrous, bizarre nonsense in which, when the Pope or some senior figure visits the country, a team of police officers has to sit at Harthill service station to meet those coming from the east, simply because they are not allowed to travel the extra 20 miles into Glasgow.

However, I do not want to be too critical of the SNP; after all, Maureen Watt warned us not to be cynical. I cannot believe that a couple of weeks before the election a Government would discover that it wanted to look at, say, another solution for a unpopular electricity line that it had already passed but I could not possibly make such a cynical remark in a debate in the run-up to an election.

I have always been of the opinion that the best defence against a commandeering Government is an assertive citizenry and that is what can be achieved in the reforms to our police service, our fire and rescue provision and our national care service that I believe are necessary. There is absolutely nothing inherently centralist or undemocratic about reducing the number of police and fire authorities, or about combining adult care services in one public sector area instead of keeping them split between the NHS and local government. Indeed, Labour’s avowed intention is that, in restructuring these services, priority setting will be devolved to the local level and that democratically elected representatives who listen to the communities that they represent will have even more of a say in the delivery of services than they do at present. The governance of local services must, by its very nature, be as local as possible.

Moreover, as necessity is the mother of invention, any Government of Scotland must do all that can to shield people from the worst effects of the global financial crisis while delivering social and economic reforms. Although we must protect public services as best we can, the public sector’s structure, approach and objectives should not be immune from reform, the main aim of which must be to provide public services that are more flexible and are adaptable to individual local needs. There must be more of an emphasis on moving towards a delivery-based philosophy that encompasses a radical dispersal of power, in which people have more say over the services that they receive and front-life staff have more of an input into the services that they provide. In no way can that be described as a centralising power grab. Instead, we are proposing a diffusion of power that should and must reduce bureaucratic burdens.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I have a genuine question. At the moment, the chief constable is responsible for operational matters. If we have a single chief constable for Scotland, he or she will have that operational responsibility—or is Labour seeking to change that?

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

Mr Rumbles’s question presumes that there is no hierarchy of decision making in the current eight-force structure. Chief constables have powers that are dispersed down to local level—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

But what about operational responsibility?

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

It would not matter whether the new chief constable of a single Scottish police division was based in the last house in John o’ Groats; the decisions that are made at a local level will be based on the divisional structures in the local communities. That is the important point that the Liberal Democrats appear to be missing.

Public services should improve as they become more personal and cost effective while, at the same time, strengthening democratic deliberation and control in our local communities. Policing must respond to local priorities and any redirection of power must allow for leaner central Government. Local public services must change for the emerging era and deliver what people want in the way that they want them; indeed, the services for those people must be preserved in the face of all the challenges that arise in this current economic climate.

Sustained investment in public services since devolution should have created a better relationship between central Government and the front line, empowered both to focus on what they do best, and, in so doing, delivered better value for money. Progress has undoubtedly been made in many areas, but the next steps of reform and the next decisions on how services will meet citizens’ expectations must increasingly be for local areas and for front-line services to respond to freely. As citizens and communities are empowered, central Government must sharpen its focus on its core role of setting policy priorities, guaranteeing national standards and building up capacity in the public services.

We live in turbulent times, and Scotland is in a state of turmoil that has been caused by the 21st century neo-conservative coalition at Westminster. It ill befits the Liberal Democrats, who are one of the parties in the coalition, to hold a debate in the Scottish Parliament in which they criticise those who want to make the reforms that are necessary to deliver the best public services that can be delivered in economic circumstances that they have created.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I welcome the debate, not least because it provides quite a rare opportunity. It has well and truly exposed the Liberal Democrats’ hypocrisy. I have found myself agreeing with members I would not normally agree with.

Let us stand back and look at the context of the debate, which is important. In Westminster, Liberal Democrat MPs are cutting the Scottish budget by £1.3 billion, and Liberal Democrat MSPs are refusing to enter into a debate in the Scottish Parliament about the consequences of those cuts for Scottish services. The Liberal Democrats have no ideas. Every idea that is put forward, whether it is on police, fire or health and social care services, is opposed. I will go further than that. If a party has had a hand in cutting the Scottish budget, it almost has more of a responsibility to come to the Scottish Parliament with ideas about how the consequences of those cuts can be dealt with. What we have heard this morning has really exposed the Liberal Democrats. They say one thing in one place and another thing in another place. Cathie Craigie put things well when she said that they have

“a face for every door”.

One thing that has not emerged in the debate is the real irony in the talk about health and social care. The lead agency model, which is the SNP’s preferred model, originated in Highland Council, which the Liberal Democrats run. I pay tribute to Michael Foxley for having the initiative to look at reforming public services, but his Scottish Parliament colleagues come here and criticise the very model that the Liberal Democrats are pursuing in Highland Council. I am surprised that the hypocrisy and astonishing irony of that has not come out in the debate so far.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

On the issue of finance, the most recent example that we have in Scotland of stripping away from a regional model to a single national model is provided by Skills Development Scotland. The regional delivery of skills through our local enterprise companies was stripped away to delivery by a single agency. That has cost £20 million net more in administration, IT and bureaucracy. The savings came only when more than 100 members of staff were made redundant. Is that the model for a single police force?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

It ill behoves the Liberal Democrats to question the savings that will be made through reforming public services, because in Westminster they have pushed through the abolition of quango after quango for the reason that it will save money. It is absolutely right to get rid of many of those quangos, but surely the Liberal Democrats cannot use the financial argument for a bonfire of the quangos in London and come here and say, “Reforming services will save no money.” That cannot be correct. Surely public services in England are not so different from public services in Scotland in that regard. The Liberal Democrats cannot say one thing in London and something completely different in Edinburgh. Jeremy Purvis cannot have a face for every door—people will see through that. They are already seeing through it.

The Scottish Government is committed to integrating health and social care. I will stick to those issues for the remainder of my comments, because police and fire services have been well debated this morning. Our goal is to ensure that people have access to sustainable, appropriate services that meet their needs, not services that are planned and delivered according to organisational boundaries.

Like Jackie Baillie, I have worked on the front line in social care. I am struck by the fact that three of the main parties in Parliament have reached the conclusion that we must have a single, integrated system of health and social care. The only exception is the Liberal Democrats. That is interesting. I need remind no one here of the financial constraints that face us. Front-line services that protect the most vulnerable in our society should be the priority for every member of Parliament. For our part, we are prepared to have a dialogue with others about the best way to ensure that the front line is maintained.

We know from the evidence from our reshaping care for older people programme that we have to act now and that we have to act decisively. We have to be ambitious and innovative to ensure that we meet people’s needs, particularly those of our growing elderly population. As Jackie Baillie rightly said, after all the years of good progress in some areas but not enough progress in others, we cannot wait for some future local solution to emerge and for everyone suddenly to agree. Older people cannot wait for everyone to wake up and smell the coffee. It would be irresponsible of members not to realise that.

Carrying on with services as they are currently configured—the status quo, which the Liberal Democrats support—is not affordable. It will cost us an extra £1.1 billion by 2016. If we do not do something, that resource will come out of the front line, which is unacceptable. Our goal instead is to help older people to stay in their own homes or a homely setting for as long as possible. That is what people want and it is what clinicians tell us is the best for people, whenever possible.

To achieve that, we have to take responsibility nationally and locally for good stewardship of the public pound. Of course, at the end of the day, the public pound is the public pound, whether we are talking about the NHS or local government. What we have to decide as leaders is how that public pound is best deployed to keep people safe in their own homes in these times of budget constraints.

Where does that leave us? There is only one answer in health and social care, and that is a single, integrated system. Yes, we have to have a debate about the best model. The lead agency model has great merits, because of its simplicity. However, the destination for three of the parties that we have heard from this morning is not dissimilar. The good thing to emerge from this debate is the responsible and mature approach of many in Parliament to these important and difficult issues. The one glaring exception is the Liberal Democrats. This morning, they have been found wanting.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

There is no doubt in my mind that our choice of subject for this Liberal Democrat-led debate was absolutely right. The Parliament should be

“concerned by the apparently endless desire on the part of centralising national politicians to attempt to take over control of local services”.

The uncomfortable speeches from SNP back benchers show that at least some of them are embarrassed by their Government’s centralisation agenda. Even some Labour members were uncomfortable. When I asked Cathie Craigie how her constituents in Cumbernauld would feel if the single police chief for Scotland was based in Aberdeen, she ducked the question. That says everything.

Michael McMahon rose—

Let me get started. From my questioning of Michael McMahon, it is clear that Labour members misunderstand the responsibilities of the chief constable. That responsibility cannot be devolved.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

Does Mike Rumbles understand that the areas that Cathie Craigie and I represent have divisions within Strathclyde Police and that what really matters to the people in Lanarkshire whom we represent is that a police officer is there when one is needed? People do not care where the police officer who bosses them lives.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Spot on—that is exactly the point that we are making. People do not want their resources to be directed by a chief constable who is based in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

In his opening speech, Robert Brown highlighted the Labour Party’s natural instinct for centralisation. Labour members are absolutely clear that they want a national police force, so they are at least honest and open in their response.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In a minute.

We in the Liberal Democrats do not agree with the Labour Party and we fiercely oppose what it wants to do, but at least Richard Baker and Michael McMahon for Labour take an honourable position. However, we should compare that with the less-than-honourable position of the nationalists. Kenny MacAskill’s amendment, which has been cobbled together with the Conservatives, is astonishing. It uses the word “local” six times—can you believe it?—even though, time and again, the minister attempts to centralise power. What hypocrisy!

On policing, despite the fact that no evidence has been presented, the minister continues to say—he said it again today—that a national police force would have more weight. He said that he will not really consult on one of the three options—the status quo—on which he is consulting. That option is in the consultation, but he will not accept it because it is not an option. What a consultation! At a stroke, the minister has undermined and pre-empted his so-called consultation. Incidentally, in that consultation, the minister is desperately trying to find evidence to justify his position.

Kenny MacAskill, our Cabinet Secretary for Justice, must be more conscious of his role in Parliament. He needs to be more careful with his choice of language. For instance, during his speech, he said that, while we speak, “a terrorist” has been arrested in Scotland, but that person is of course a terrorist suspect. That is typical of our justice minister’s lack of care. He plays fast and loose with the English language, and he is at it again with his amendment.

Richard Baker argued that a national police force is essential to save money, yet the previous Labour Government in England—his party—dropped the proposal because it would cost an estimated £400 .million, so where is the saving? When I intervened to ask Richard Baker whether a chief constable who was based in the central belt would prioritise operational matters in the north-east, he made the impractical suggestion that the chief constable would not necessarily be based in the central belt. Aye, right. As I said, the Labour position is honourable, but flawed. Labour members must resist the temptation of overegging it.

John Lamont for the Conservatives failed to understand what operational independence for our chief constables means. If we have one chief constable for Scotland, local accountability will completely disappear. I see John Lamont shaking his head, which shows that he still does not understand. That is the view of the chief constables of Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary. He really must listen to our chief constables. David Cameron, the Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, argues for the big society. That is about volunteering, but it is also about devolving power and control to local people. We heard nothing from the Scottish Conservatives about the big society. Instead, at decision time this evening, they will vote for the opposite of the big society, because they will vote for the nationalist amendment. As we know, the nationalists are involved in a national power grab.

Many of the back-bench speeches, particularly from SNP members—there were no back-bench speeches from the Conservatives, I might add—were typified by embarrassment at having to support the centralisation agenda, while wanting but failing to support the local chief constable.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I think that our arguments are about supporting our local communities.

Where is the truth in the Liberal Democrats’ allegation that the Dingwall area headquarters will close?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I must admit that I am not familiar with the Dingwall police station. If Rob Gibson will forgive me, as a member from the north-east, I cannot talk about Dingwall.

I am afraid that Maureen Watt’s contribution was particularly woeful.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing what MSPs such as Brian Adam and Nigel Don had to say, because I know that they are in favour of Grampian Police. However, they are not here to say so. I am disappointed that they did not turn up.

The battle lines for the forthcoming Scottish election are now being drawn. The people of Scotland have a clear choice to make. On one side we have the Labour Party, the Nationalists and now, unfortunately, the Conservatives, who have decided to support the centralisation of power with regard to our police forces, our fire and rescue services and our other local services.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It would have helped if Alex Johnstone had listened to the debate before making an intervention—he has just appeared in the chamber.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I do not have time, unfortunately.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I have been here every minute of the debate.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

The battle lines are drawn. Does Mike Rumbles support Danny Alexander’s proposal to cut police pay?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It might surprise George Foulkes but, as I said earlier, the last time I looked, the police service in Scotland was devolved to us. We make those decisions here, not them.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

No. We have responsibility for the Scottish police forces.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the cabinet secretary stop trying to shout me down from a sedentary position? Goodness me.

It will become clear to the people of Scotland, in the election campaign, that only the Scottish Liberal Democrats will fight for the retention of our locally controlled services, against the power grab that is currently under way.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

If the cabinet secretary wants to intervene, I will gladly give way.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Is the member aware that the Police Negotiating Board is pan-UK and that police terms and conditions and pay are set across the UK?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Of course, I am well aware of that.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That is the choice that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has made, because policing in Scotland is devolved to this place. He has decided to accept the status quo. Policing is a devolved issue for this Parliament to deal with, and it is about time the Cabinet Secretary for Justice realised the extent of his powers.

It will become clear to the people of Scotland during the election campaign that the Liberal Democrats will be fighting for local police services, local fire and rescue services and other local services, which need to be retained under local control.

As a result of this debate, the people of Scotland know that the Labour Party, the SNP and the Conservatives are on one side of the argument and the Liberal Democrats are on the other. The Scottish Liberal Democrats will fight local people’s corner.