Does the First Minister accept that the most recent reorganisation of Scottish local government cost between £375 million and £720 million? Does he also accept that the previous UK Government, to its credit, abandoned an enormous reorganisation of the police in England because it would have cost at least £400 million? The First Minister said today that he wants decisions on the police and other matters to be based on evidence. If he questions those figures, when will he publish his own?
The figures in terms of the review of police are being and will be made available and are being studied at the present moment. As Tavish Scott well knows, they are the subject of quite legitimate debate among the chief constables and other people in Scotland who have an interest in such matters.
I do not accept Tavish Scott’s argument that having a police structure in Scotland, whereby one force covers half the population of the country and seven other forces—with another seven chief constables, all the attendant assistant chief constables and the whole panoply of bureaucracy that that inevitably involves—cover the other half, can possibly be considered to be the most effective way to run a police service across the country. Therefore, it is entirely correct that those matters are under review. I have set out the Government’s direction of travel. As I understand it, Tavish Scott stands alone in not thinking that there is room for improvement in the current structure of eight police services across Scotland.
My argument is that the Government must have a case that is based on evidence, and it has not produced any. The real question is why the Government cannot produce any figures to support its own consultation. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice promised them in January and again in February. Two weeks ago, the First Minister told me that they would be published “shortly”. The Parliament could have been given the figures today, but no. The chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police says that the consultation that the Government is responsible for is “inaccurate and potentially misleading”.
The First Minister is going to the councillors conference this afternoon. They will have to pay for any changes. If he will not tell the Parliament how expensive his plans will be, will he tell local government? Why is he withholding that evidence?
There are very few people in Scotland who believe that we could not make substantial efficiency savings by having fewer police authorities. The debate that is taking place among chief constables is about the extent of the savings that are possible from altering the structure of the forces.
It is correct and proper to have that debate and for these matters to be examined properly, but we cannot content ourselves with the view that we will not make progress on the issue. We must make progress because, apart from the need to have efficient delivery of government in Scotland, every public service is coming under the most profound revenue and capital pressure thanks to the Liberal Democrats and their Conservative colleagues in the Government at Westminster.
I believe that Tavish Scott sincerely holds the views that he expresses when he asks his questions. As regards his comments elsewhere, I particularly salute his fair-mindedness when he said in Holyrood magazine:
“I think the SNP has done well after four years in a minority government.”
I agree with him.