Scotland in Union has responded to the Scottish Government's ‘Consultation on the integration of the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland’.
See below some of the points we made in our response.
The controversy which surrounds the effective dissolution of a specialist police force, British Transport Police (BTP), and its integration into a single area force (Police Scotland) which is in itself a new creation, does nothing to ensure that the police themselves are not the subject of widespread public debate. This is exacerbated by the fact that BTP is considered to be a discreet, highly skilled and highly successful police force, whereas the newly created Police Scotland is seldom out of the headlines.
Police Scotland, therefore, would be best served and would have the greatest opportunity to develop their own services if they were not asked to take on additional duties at this time. Such a period of stability would allow a fairer appraisal of Police Scotland’s performance to emerge, and indeed allow for a fairer comparison against other forces which similarly do not have additional transport duties. This appraisal would be at the root of ensuring proper performance analysis and due accountability.
Operationally, the transport network is effectively stretched across the island of Great Britain. Given the speed at which incidents can cross from one policing area to the next, the policing of this network should be similarly integrated under a single GB-wide police force, as is the case today, with the specialist training in transport law that can be best delivered inside such a specialist force.
To be clear: given that fixed areas on the ground have only limited relevance to incidents on mobile infrastructure travelling above it (or below it), the wider policing of Scotland’s transport infrastructure is best served by pausing the effective dissolution of a specialist transport force (BTP) into a local area force.
Our recommendation is that accountability and integration are not best served by the proposed integration of forces. This has already been done with Scotland’s area forces, and the results have been, at best, mixed. To pursue further integration, this time with BTP (D Division), until the reasons for that mixed performance have been fully understood is nothing short of hubris.
The specialist skills of British Transport Police officers, which include an effective working knowledge of the integrated GB-wide transport network, are best retained by allowing them to remain part of their own, wider force and not by causing them to become part of a local area force. To do so will immediately limit their ability to react to incidents crossing local force boundaries, and will in the long run surely diminish the depth of knowledge that is required to assess where an incident may go next and respond accordingly.
The views of unions RMT, ASLEF and TSSA should all be given the highest weighting in deciding how to proceed. The public, on the other hand, have never been given an opportunity to express an opinion on this matter as it did not appear in the Scottish Government’s manifesto. Given that a former Commander of the British Transport Police has stated that these changes are being made for political reasons, and there is accordingly widespread opposition, it would seem appropriate to pause them for the duration of this Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government should consider the savings that can be made by not proceeding with this scheme. These savings could take the form of one-off costs, disruption to the arrangements by which train companies contribute to policing costs, and the opportunity costs that must surely arise from making these politically loaded changes in the place of the evidence led reform that could otherwise occur.
It is our view that the opinions of the British Transport Police itself should be taken into account. We understand that the transfer is hugely unpopular and should be discontinued with immediate effect.