It’s all change for the local police

Police have to attend various incidents
Police have to attend various incidents

Presenting his first annual report on the fortunes of Central Scotland Police should have been a milestone occasion for Chief Constable Derek Penman.

On the surface it was a good news story. Crime was down, detection rates were up and, with the largest drops in violent crime and anti-social behaviour, always areas of particular concern for politicians and the public, the force appeared to be getting it right.

Add to this around £4 million of illegal drugs taken off the streets, including several cannabis farms closed down, and 63 members of organised crime gangs arrested, and the officers of Central Scotland showed they were responding to the challenges of 21st century policing.

Except, along with the other 17,000 officers and 6500 support staff employed by Scotland’s eight police forces, they delivered these results against a backdrop of change and uncertainty.

From April 1 next year there will be a single Scottish police force to serve over five million people.

Hailed as “the most significant change to policing in Scotland for a generation”, debate, followed by planning and legislation, have been on the agenda for some time.

Both the SNP and Labour favoured the reduction, although it was only after a period of public consultation that the Scottish Government announced last September that the proposal would be taken forward.

It will create the second biggest police force in the UK and look after the entire country from Shetland to Galloway, Aberdeen to the Western Isles.

Although the message continues to be that the people in the street will see no difference in the level and standard of policing delivered, and rank and file officers will be in the main as you were, for senior officers the future is uncertain.

The only thing that is clear is there won’t be jobs for them all.

Central Scotland’s chief constable, Kevin Smith, was seconded to head up the National Police Reform Team last November and his depute, Derek Penman, took over the top role with the local force.

While this is the penultimate chief constable annual report, with the final document not published until after the demise of the Central Scotland force, this was Mr Penman’s first – and last – opportunity to present the document in situ.

He said: “We adopted a four-year plan for 2011-15 even though we knew that with police reform it wouldn’t exist for that time.

‘‘It is centred on building trust and confidence, and if we do that then it will be more likely that people are satisfied with the service we give them.

“We faced a number of challenges in the last 12 months, including financial and legislative challenges, as well as police reform. However, despite this we have hit all our national targets.”

Police figures remain around 868, the number laid down by the Scottish Government, and the force currently boasts its highest ever number of officers.

But in a bid to balance the books, police staff jobs have already been shed.

Mr Penman added: “Unfortunately, we have to move to voluntary redundancies, early retirement, and even some compulsory redundancies. However, the emphasis was always on maintaining our frontline service to deliver our targets.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty, particularly for police staff, But for the communities we serve, everything possible is being done to make the transfer as seamless as possible.

“The senior management team will change but for the majority of staff and officers there will be little difference. So far, it doesn’t appear to be a major issue for the public and I’m sure that will continue to be the case.

“Our aim is to protect the quality of our community policing and maintain the excellent service we believe we provide to the people we serve. Through delivering quality services, we will build trust, confidence and satisfaction in our local policing.”