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Responsibility for the management of the police estate sits with the Scottish Police Authority and, rightly, with the chief constable. Police Scotland has confirmed that 113 police stations have been sold and 17 police stations have had their lease terminated since the creation of Police Scotland in April 2013. Some of those properties and leases were declared surplus by the legacy forces, with sales concluding after the establishment of Police Scotland.
The new estate strategy, which was approved by the SPA in May 2019, provides a framework for planning the future of the police estate to support the long-term vision of policing, which includes enhanced partnership working. That work seeks to respond to the changing needs of communities while maintaining public visibility and confidence.
The Press and Journal reported last week that a total of 125 stations, including 32 in the region that I represent, have been axed since the Scottish National Party merged local constabularies into Police Scotland. Violent crime has risen for four years in a row. Why is the Scottish Government dismantling local policing in remote communities?
I will give a comparative figure from the House of Commons library briefing, which suggests that 600 police stations in England and Wales have been closed under the Conservative Government. If Donald Cameron thinks that closures are having a detrimental effect on Scotland, I am sure that he will equally condemn his own party’s actions in England and Wales. Of course he will not, because he is making a political point that is not based on any facts.
Is Donald Cameron seriously asking the Government and Police Scotland to keep open stations that have not been used for years? Let us look at the region that he represents. There has been an empty station in Broadford since 2013; there is an empty station in Bettyhill that has not been used since 2010; and there is a station in Invergordon that has been empty since 2011. Is he seriously suggesting that Police Scotland keeps open stations that have not been used for years, at a cost to the public—to the taxpayer—and to Police Scotland? That does not make any sense whatsoever.
I am proud of our record with regard to lowering crime rates—we have one of the lowest crime rates in 43 years. We also have 1,000 additional police officers since the SNP took over in 2007, and we have given the police a historic pay deal, which has been described as the best pay deal in two decades.
I suggest to Donald Cameron that if he wants to make a valuable contribution, he could persuade his colleagues in Westminster to return the £175 million in VAT that they stole from Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
The discussion about police stations highlights the issue of the £43 million shortfall in the capital budget, as evidenced in Police Scotland’s submission to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. Indeed, Deputy Chief Officer David Page described the effect of the shortfall as “putting band aids” on issues that need to be dealt with.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that the shortfall of £43 million undermines the ability of Police Scotland to effectively manage the police estate and to ensure that effective information technology facilities are in place and that fleet management is modern and up to date?
That is why when Police Scotland and the SPA approached me, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, about increasing the capital budget for mobile devices before the previous spending review, I increased it by 52 per cent. I say gently to James Kelly that, in his previous role as shadow finance secretary, he did not vote for a budget that increased Police Scotland’s capital budget, and he did not bring a proposal to the table to increase Police Scotland’s capital budget.
I will listen to what Police Scotland has to say. The spending review will be a matter of much debate and negotiation. I hope that, if there is a further increase to Police Scotland’s capital budget, the Labour Party will support the budget proposals.