Police Scotland and British Transport Police Merger

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April 2018.

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Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the timetable of the merger between Police Scotland and the British Transport Police. (S5O-01997)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As set out in the letter of 20 February 2018 from the Minister for Transport and the Islands to the Justice Committee, the joint work carried out by Police Scotland and the British Transport Police Authority reviewed progress on operational matters at a workshop in February 2018 and concluded that a number of significant issues remained to be resolved.

As a result of that assessment, the joint programme board was advised that further time was needed to deliver integration most effectively and safely for railway passengers, staff and officers. Ministers accepted that advice, and that a replanning exercise would take place to establish a new delivery date. That reflects the importance that the Government places on achieving a safe, effective and smooth transition that delivers continuity of service for rail users and staff. The next joint programme board meeting will be held in Edinburgh on 8 May.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

A paper written by the British Transport Police Federation that was reported on last week found that the merger of the BTP into Police Scotland not only risks creating life-threatening safety issues, but could cost between £225,000 and £500,000 per officer. Does the cabinet secretary agree with those costings? If not, what has the Government estimated that the cost per officer of the merger will be?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The claim that Mary Fee has made reference to—that it could cost up to £500,000 per transfer of officer, including pensions—is simply inaccurate. It does not take account of the fact that pension liabilities are met by assets and that the schemes are currently fully funded. Actuarial advice that was shared with the Scottish Police Authority in October last year states that the pension liabilities are about £97 million and are balanced by £99 million of pension fund assets. We do not recognise the figures that Mary Fee quoted, but I recognise that the British Transport Police Federation opposes the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Following on from Mary Fee’s question, has the Scottish Government set aside any additional budget, at the point of delay, to address some of the concerns that were raised by the British Transport Police Federation and others?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

For the reasons that I have just outlined to Mary Fee, we do not recognise the figures that the BTPF has produced and we have set out the reasons for that. We also made it very clear that the funding for the work that is now being carried out on the integration programme is being met by through the police reform budget, which is used for police reform measures in Scotland.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the delay is frustrating for the public, who do not understand why there should be one police force for a railway platform and a separate one for a road a few yards away? The sooner that we can make the system simpler, the better.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the frustrations that John Mason expressed, and I assure him that we are fully committed to ensuring that the British Transport Police is integrated into Police Scotland. Progress has been made in a number of very important areas of the integration programme, including a significant amount of work that has been undertaken over the past nine months.

Alongside that, work is now being done as part of the reprogramming exercise to ensure that there are clear timelines for the completion of the outstanding work. I reassure all members that the travelling public continue to receive a service from the British Transport Police, with Police Scotland, as and when necessary, supporting its BTP colleagues when incidents occur.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Contrary to what Mr Mason just said, does the cabinet secretary not accept that there are still serious concerns about the merger, especially on issues relating to information and communications technology infrastructure? Is it not about time that the cabinet secretary listened to experts and went back to the drawing board on this very unpopular merger?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As Jamie Greene will recognise, the merger of the BTP into Police Scotland was approved and agreed by a majority in this Parliament. I recognise that his party plans to move to a national infrastructure policing unit with the integration of the BTP with the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which would completely abolish the BTP. My concerns about that approach is that I suspect that it would largely be an armed force, given the nature of the work that is carried out by the officers of the civil nuclear and Ministry of Defence police services.

I recognise that there are those with concerns about the integration plans that we have in Scotland. The replanning exercise is an important element in making sure that the areas of work that still have to be carried out are completed before full integration takes place, and the exercise will identify a timeline for taking that forward.

I do not share Jamie Greene’s view that we should abolish the BTP and move it into a national infrastructure policing division, as his party proposed in the previous election and as previously mooted by the United Kingdom Government. That is clearly the UK Government’s policy at the present time.