Scottish police station closures

Monday, 04 April, 2022

Police leaders have warned that people living in remote and rural areas are less likely to contact officers due to the “detrimental impact” of station closures. 

Figures compiled by 1919 show that 140 dedicated stations and offices have shut since Police Scotland was created in 2013. Staff from several stations have relocated to shared buildings including council headquarters, however many have been closed and not replaced. And Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents rank-and-file officers, said many of those that have vanished are in Scotland’s remote and rural areas. He stressed a lack of investment in the police estate has left some of the remaining stations in disrepair, and previously highlighted images from a police building in Dunoon with mushrooms growing on the walls.

In this year’s budget, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes froze Police Scotland’s capital funding, resulting in a real-terms cut after inflation, despite calls from the force for additional funding of £242 million over 10 years to help fix a backlog of problems within the force’s estate. Steele said: “Years of underinvestment in the police estate have left many police stations in a shocking state of repair. Were it not for rats, many would have no inhabitants at all. “Whilst we welcome new buildings and co-location with other agencies where they exist, the stark reality is that simple neglect has led to so many police stations being closed and lost forever.

“It is, of course, all too easy for the police service to remove officers from police stations in many communities and profess that they will provide the same service from a larger facility in a neighbouring town or village. “The truth however is often that the police services these communities receive is now a shadow of that which they used to.”

He added: “I have spent the past few weeks talking to members of the public, councillors, MSPs, MPs, and our own members on this very subject. “Without exception they consider that retrenchment into more urban centres is having a detrimental impact on the policing of remote and rural areas, with many communities now not phoning the police as they have little confidence of a meaningful response. “This is a devastating assessment and officers and communities in remote and rural Scotland deserve much better.

“The vital link that once tied police officers to local communities is being systematically eroded and we will all be poorer as a result.” Police Scotland, which enters its tenth year this month, previously published an estates strategy which told how it had “inherited a large estate”. It highlighted the changing demands and public expectations of policing, including in the way members of the public choose to contact officers – with a “preference” emerging of “using the telephone and internet instead of attending at a police station”.

The strategy, published in 2017, said: “It was therefore right that we reviewed our estate. “It will ensure our estate is fit for purpose, can support service delivery and provide best value.” Last year it emerged that Police Scotland had made £28.5 million after selling off 96 of its old properties. The former Strathclyde Police headquarters in Glasgow’s Pitt Street raised £9.8 million, while the former police training school in Chambers Street, Edinburgh, made £3.3 million. At the time a further 26 were either under offer, on the market, being prepared to go up for sale or for proposed community transfer. Since then, three other police stations have closed, with staff relocating to council buildings in Aberdeen, Crieff and Alloa. Leases for 15 other police stations have also been terminated or transferred. Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene described the number of closures as a “cynical attempt to save money” by the Scottish Government, which he said had “undoubtedly made our streets less safe”.

He said: “Police stations serve as a vital hub for local police officers and the public, as well as a physical reminder that police are present in our communities.

“But the SNP government’s police merger has meant a shocking number of local stations having to close their doors across Scotland. “What police stations are left are often in disrepair, with reports of mould on the carpets and buildings that are no longer wind or watertight.

“When Police Scotland tried to get the funding to make improvements, the SNP government handed them a real-terms cut to their capital budget instead.

“This pattern of neglect cannot continue. Our police need to have access to more, and higher quality, local stations.” And Lib Dem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “The SNP's centralisation of Scottish policing was billed as a cost saving exercise. “When those savings failed to appear it was estates and staff which bore the brunt of the cuts.

“Having police based across the country is essential for community policing and the closure of so many stations risks hollowing out the ability to make this model work effectively.”

Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Scotland’s policing estate has been built up over the course of several decades and has suffered from a historic lack of investment under legacy arrangements.

“Some buildings are no longer in the right place, are not operationally fit for purpose and not designed in a way which allows us to work alongside key delivery partners.

“We carefully consider all options regarding the use of policing buildings, including co-location or relocation and consult with a range of stakeholders and the local community.

“Co-location brings a number of benefits to the way we can work together with local authorities to help communities far more than we have been able to in the past. It reduces our environmental footprint and provides financial savings that we can use to invest more in our people and technology.

“Our priority is providing the best service we can to help communities and being in shared facilities, providing integrated services will enable us to do this.

“Our policing strategy is designed to support our plans to enable officers to spend more time out in communities, such as the successful roll-out of mobile devices. Increases in fraud and other cyber-enabled crimes demonstrate that online policing is also increasingly a key part of frontline policing.

“Reform of policing in Scotland means communities are now served by stronger operational competence and better access to all policing capabilities than would otherwise be the case. “Accessible policing is critical to our vital bond with the public from who we draw our legitimacy. Responsive policing tailored to local needs will always be at the heart of our mission and purpose.”

The Scottish Government said recorded crime remains at one of the lowest levels since 1974 and is down 41 per cent when compared to 2006/07. A spokesman said: “The allocation of resources, including for the police estate, is for the Scottish Police Authority and the Chief Constable to determine.

“However, the police capital budget has more than doubled since 2017/18, supporting continued investment in the police estate. “Police Scotland has prioritised the progress of a new and ambitious estates strategy which will lead to improvements in the operating environment for all officers and staff in line with the objective to proactively look after their wellbeing.”

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