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Specialised railway policing put at risk by Scottish Government

06 September, 2016

British Transport
Police Federation
November 1, 2016

BTP Federation gives evidence on the proposals for policing in Scotland

British Transport Police Federation attended the Scottish Government this morning to give evidence to the Justice Committee on the proposed merger of BTP Scotland and Police Scotland.

Various topics were discussed including the consultation process, what the future looks like and the wide range of complicating factors that need to be considered. There were three key topics that the panel discussed at length, and on which we offer the following comments:

We are still not clear on the evidence behind the proposed merger and, in particular, the benefit it will bring to the travelling public. Having asked the committee for sight of the evidence base that is informing the decision, we weren't surprised to be told there was no-one present who could provide that information. We are concerned that integral parts of this proposition - i.e. the economic or operational benefit - still have not been addressed.

When this Bill was going through parliament, it was a discussion around British Transport Police being more accountable to the Scottish public and Scottish Police Authority. What we have ended up with is a discussion around the wholesale dismantling of the BTP in Scotland. Again, we ask where evidence is for this. BTP is not a failing organisation and public satisfaction remains high.

We note with interest remarks from Professor Fyfe from the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) who suggested there may be a role for Audit Scotland and HMICS to consider the financial and other implications of these proposals.

The challenges of this proposal should not be underestimated and it's the 'people' issues which will be amongst the most difficult to resolve. Unlike Police Scotland officers, our members are not Crown or Public Servants, and have a very different set of terms and conditions.

Against a backdrop of Police Scotland's reported £17million overspend, we question the rationale of potentially adding to that cost by taking on additional financial responsibilities in terms of our members terms and conditions, and pension liabilities.

Furthermore, Police Scotland is still in a transitional phase. We heard today that the force is about to embark on a period of transformational change and a new ten-year strategy. ACC Higgins suggested this may be an opportune time for the merger, but we strongly disagree. Our members are seeking certainty, and rail users should be able to expect this too.

Officer numbers
We have been very clear that the planned amalgamation will result in a loss of specialist expertise and knowledge. Despite assurances from Police Scotland around ringfencing numbers, what they can't guarantee is the retention of the skills and experience of BTP officers. Members who are at a particular stage in their careers will seriously consider their futures because there is so much uncertainty around what lies ahead.

Convener, Margaret Mitchell, stated 'backfilling is currently an issue in Police Scotland' and we share concerns about the dilution of police services on the railways. The policing priorities of Police Scotland are undoubtedly very different to those of the Train Operating Companies and the travelling public.

In summary, it is our view that the national rail network, including Scotland, is best protected by a unified police force providing a dedicated specialist service, and one which is able to prioritise policing of the railway. That force should be the British Transport Police.