John Finnie has called for the scrapping of the planned merger of police control rooms in Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee, following the publication of the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) report into the failings of call handling that were exposed by the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill on the M9.
In response to a statement in Parliament by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP, John also sought a guarantee that the call handlers’ union UNISON would be fully involved in any decision on the control rooms.
“This comprehensive report clearly lays out past and present challenges around the handling of calls. We welcome the recognition of the need for improvements and an assurance that ‘staffing levels… are now stabilised’. However, Police Scotland must go further and ensure there is adequate resilience in their system of call-handling.
“It was the Scottish Greens’ view that HMICS’ Interim Report evidenced the compelling need to retain the Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness centres and this final report simply reinforces that view. The Cabinet Secretary stated ‘independent experts will be brought in to provide strong assurances before any decision is considered’ to those three centres. I advised the Cabinet Secretary this sounded like a decision made.
“I sought an assurance from the Cabinet Secretary that UNISON, who represent the majority of control room staff, would be at the forefront of meaningful consultation with nothing pre-determined. Whilst the Cabinet Secretary said he welcomed the role UNISON could play, it was well short of the unequivocal ‘yes’ I had hoped for.”
John is the Scottish Green Party’s justice spokesperson and a former Northern Constabulary officer. He serves on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice and Policing committees.
John’s question to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, and the minister’s reply, are below. You can see this exchange within the transcript of the full statement and questions in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.
John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
I thank Mr Penman for his report and the cabinet secretary for early sight of it.
I want to pick up on Mr Macdonald’s point because my attention was also drawn to the fact that
“independent experts will be brought in to provide strong assurances”.
Language is very important and to me, as well as to many others, that reads as though decisions have been made and experts will be brought in to confirm a predetermined decision.
I read the report as being further evidence for the interim report, which suggested to me that there is a compelling need to retain Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee call centres. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that Unison is at the forefront of meaningful consultations about this, and that nothing is predetermined?
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson):
As the member will be aware, the report does not recommend that the final model should not be pursued or that that model cannot deliver the type of service that Police Scotland intends to achieve. The intended model, which is the end point that Police Scotland wants to get to with its call centre arrangements, is still its direction of travel.
The independent expertise will put in place additional safeguards before any further steps can be taken in moving to the closure of any other control rooms at present. There will be an independent process of scrutiny to provide assurance that all the necessary steps have been taken before that change can take place.
The member asked about Unison. I welcome the statement that Unison issued today, which welcomed the report. I am disappointed that others have not welcomed the report. Unison welcomed the report and the progress that has been made in improving the situation in the call centres. I have made it clear that I expect good engagement to take place with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, including important stakeholders such as Unison, which represents many of the staff in the Police Scotland control rooms.
I assure the member that Police Scotland has been left in no doubt about the need to ensure that there is good, effective engagement with the staff side in addressing those issues.