The appointment of a Chief Constable and Chief Fire Officer to oversee the new National Police and Fire and Rescue Service should be made as soon as possible, according to the Justice Committee who published its Stage 1 Report on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill today.
All but one of the committee agreed with the general principles of the Bill that will transfer the responsibility for governing the police and fire services from local authorities to new national boards.
The committee agreed with evidence it received that the new chief appointments should be made earlier than the proposed date of December 2012.
Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said:
“Our role in scrutinising this Bill is to make sure that the new national police and fire and rescue forces can actually deliver the services effectively throughout Scotland. The overwhelming majority of the committee believe they can.
“However, what came over loud and clear from the vast majority of witnesses from the services was the need to appoint a chief constable and fire officer as soon as possible. Day 1 of the new national service is the 1st of April next year and an appointment date of December 2012 will not give enough time for the new heads to prepare for it.”
Alison McInnes MSP did not agree to the general principles of the Bill, as she is not convinced that local policing and fire and rescue services could be delivered successfully through a national structure and is concerned that local accountability is being lost in the Bill. She accepts the case for early appointments under the current timetable but believes that this timetable is unrealistic.
The Committee also made other recommendations to the Scottish Government
- The Committee is concerned that the new services, unlike the current police and fire boards, may not be able to recover VAT, which could lead to an annual recurrent loss of millions from the Scottish budget. The Committee has urged the Scottish Government to pursue with HM Treasury all possibilities to resolve this, including looking at the arrangements that allow the Police Service of Northern Ireland to allow it to recover VAT.
- The Committee has asked the Scottish Government to clarify the impact of civilian redundancies (expected to result from the mergers), on the front line, and noted concerns that projected redundancies and savings might not be achievable in the expected timescale.
- The Committee sees a key role for local government in the new structure, but does not think that the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Board should be bodies of local representation.
- The Committee considers that there is a strong case to be made for the Bill securing Parliamentary oversight.
The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 16 January 2012. The Stage 2 of the Bill is expected to take place in late May/early June.