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Opinion - Who should police our main roads? 11th August 2011

Charlie Gordon British Transport Police
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Mannion of the British Transport Police (centre) is handed two patrol cars funded by Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority (SPTA) by Steve Lockley, Chief Executive of SPTE (left), and Charlie Gordon, Chair of SPTA (right) in 1995.

The debate on the future structure of policing in Scotland is well and truly underway.
The two main options for change from our current eight local police forces are to create either three larger forces, or a single national police force.

The impetus for change appears to be cost-driven. It certainly cannot, in fairness, be driven by failure of the present system, as reported crime has reduced across Scotland; for example by 4.5% in 2010/11, in the largest police force area, Strathclyde.
Scotland’s smallest police force, the British Transport Police - Scottish Area (BTP), states that reported crime figures for 2010/11 were down by 5.4%, a remarkable sixth consecutive year of reduction.

BTP’s Scottish Area Commander, Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, attributes much of her team’s ongoing success to neighbourhood policing on Scotland’s railway stations and trains, and on Glasgow’s Subway system.

On transport systems, as on streets, neighbourhood policing, ie uniformed ‘bobbies on the beat’ not only detects crime; but prevents it, whilst reducing fear of crime among the public. BTP also deal with the consequences of major operational incidents and delays on the railways.
Scotland’s trunk roads and motorways are policed by traffic police (the ones with the white hats) from local police forces.
They also police local roads, but in some areas, enforcement of ‘yellow line’ parking restrictions is done by local council staff and similar arrangements are proposed for moving traffic offences in bus lanes.

Recently, Scotland’s best road accident casualty figures since records began, were published, to justified acclaim and much of the credit should go to Scotland’s traffic cops.

So is all as it should be with the policing of Scotland’s trunk roads and motorways?

Not quite.

Cast your mind back to last winter, when travellers were trapped for many hours in freezing conditions.
There was uproar and a ministerial resignation over the response, in particular, to heavy snowfalls occurring just before the start of the morning rush hour.

The Scottish Government has ultimate responsibility for trunk roads and motorways, while local councils control most local roads, but only a police officer has the power to close a road at very short notice.

When snow falls just before rush hour, gritters need to operate in traffic-free conditions, as they are ineffective in heavy traffic.
In that scenario, police must use their powers to close roads to traffic until they are ploughed, gritted and safer.

The Scottish Government are painfully aware that, last winter, many problems were partially attributable to a lack of consistency of operational policing on stretches of roads which crossed police force boundaries.

Does that winter resilience concern therefore reinforce the case for a single Scottish police force?

Not necessarily.

All emerging options must ensure adequate traffic policing resources, but to the two options of one force or three, let me add a sub-option which could guarantee dedicated police resources on our main roads:- ask the British Transport Police to do it under a service-level agreement.
After all, is policing a motorway really so different from policing a railway?

Comment - Councillor David Fagan of North Lanarkshire Council, Vice-chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT).

I enjoyed your article on the future of the police in Scotland . I certainly think your idea of British Transport Police taking control of the policing of our main road network merits further consideration.

In relation to the Scottish Government’s proposal to create a single Scottish police force, my central reservation is that of governance. This move should be seen in the context of an increasing inclination towards centralisation coming from our political representatives at Holyrood. This is not a party political issue. In the run up to the May elections, the Scottish Labour Party was in favour of a single police force and also wanted to introduce a national care service.

I can see some merit in such proposals. There might well be opportunities to reduce costs through a rationalisation of the workforce and related infrastructure costs, whilst retaining service levels. Clearly at a time when budgets are being slashed this is an attractive proposition (although not for the staff involved).

There might also be an argument that such moves would ensure a more consistent service nationally.

However, for me the fundamental flaw of these proposals is that they diminish the influence of local people on those services.

Currently police services, which you rightly point out are performing better than ever, are governed by boards comprising of locally elected members. The councillors on these boards retain a direct link with the communities they represent and in most instances, live in those communities. In addition, members of boards such as the police board and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (of which I am a member) cover a wide geographical and social cross section of the region.

The alternative to this will almost inevitably be increased centralisation, increased ministerial control and, I fear, increased politicisation of these services.

These concerns also pertain to the current proposals for shared services, which could possibly (although not certainly) result in the benefits mentioned above, but also lead to a less representative governance model. This is why I am in favour of a SPT/Stratchclyde Police form of governance for any shared services. This model would enable all participating councils to be represented on the governing body and this representation would be proportional to the size of the constituent council.

In making this case, I may be accused of acting in a conservative (with a small ‘c’) manner, attempting to preserve councillor control of bodies of which I am a member. I am only human and perhaps I do prefer the working model with which I am most familiar.

However, I genuinely believe that the current governance arrangements for bodies such as Strathclyde Police and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport offer the best of all worlds. By acting collectively on a regional basis there is opportunity for coordinated and strategic responses to service delivery. At the same time locally elected councillors retain a direct connection with the communities within the region.

In reforming services, I believe we should be very wary of losing the benefits of these governance models, which have proven to deliver for the people of Strathclyde.

Opinion: 10th August 2011

From the Archive: My Favourite Glasgow Building

Beresford HotelWhen I was a boy, Friday night was pocket money night and I would race over to the newsagents and carefully select an armful of sweets and comics, I’d share some (!) of the sweets with my Dad and join him in watching TV whilst simultaneously reading – a habit which I’ve maintained to this day.
My comics included those old, nostalgic standards, like the Victor and the Hotspur, but my favourites bore the imprimateur ‘DC’, and the dual price tag ’10 Cents/9d’.

They were Superman or Batman stories. The super-heroes’ alter-egos, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, were usually depicted in modernistic surroundings around Metropolis and Gotham City. I’d seen nothing like these building near my sandstone tenement home in Partick. Then one day, on an outing to the old Regal Cinema to see Ben Hur, I clapped eyes on the Beresford Building, and it has been held in my imagination ever since.
Today it is Baird Hall, the prosaic home of Strathclyde University students, but wasn’t it the most likely place in Glasgow to be the haunt of incognito super-heroes? Might is still be? This art deco building is an imposing sight at the top of Elmbank Street. Elmbank Street is a street I know well from my time as a Councillor in Strathclyde Region, and a street whose architecture is rather eclectic. Scottish Opera’s dignified HQ building is in harmony with the quiet splendour of the Old High School building across the road, which latterly housed Strathclyde Region. As you walk northwards up Elmbank Street, only the interesting Kings Theatre is likely to catch your eye at the Bath Street junction. Your architectural eye, that is. For as you cross over Bath Street, the Griffin pub or the King’s Café may stimulate your corporeal appetites. The Griffin and the Kings form a kind of gateway to a part of Sauchiehall Street that gives saturation coverage to the restaurant, pub and indeed dancehall scenes.

The Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street was unquestionably diminished by the chosen line of the nearby M8 motorway, and the loss of the old Grand Hotel in particular is rightly mourned. But the saving grace is the old Beresford. Pre-war in origin, yet at once timeless and futuristic.
There’s a pub on the ground floor, which has been suitably re-named The Beresford, but for many years it was called Oceans Eleven. Oceans Eleven was the name of a ‘caper’ movie made in the 1960’s by Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack friends: Dean Martin, Sammy Davies Jnr, Peter Lawford etc. I recall that the pub was once owned by John Colrain, a Celtic footballer of the early 1960’s. I remember reading a newspaper article in which Colrain said that he had once spent some time in the company of Frank Sinatra, and when he went into the pub business he chose a pub name with a Sinatra theme. But that is entirely the way, as they say in Glasgow.

The Beresford has been renewed in terms of façade as well as in nomenclature and a good thing too. The vertical blue lighting is a breathtaking on the building after dark.

I daresay the Beresford has its drawbacks. Condensation on the metal window frames perhaps? I don’t know. You see, I have never set foot in that building. Maybe I never will.

I've visited most of Glasgow’s great buildings. But with the Beresford, I prefer to view it in my imagination.

The above artilce was first published in Prospect: (Jan/Feb 2001, Issue 77) It is reproduced with the kind permission of Carnyx Publishing.







© Charlie Gordon 2012