Argyll police stations face closure threat

John Finnie 2John Finnie has written to the Chief Constable after it emerged that dozens of police stations – including several in Argyll – are under threat of closure.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Scotland has revealed that Police Scotland buildings in 58 locations are being reviewed, including Oban, Loghgilphead, Campbelltown, Inverary and Taynuilt.

John is the Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for the Highlands and Islands. He said:

“Of course all organisations should review processes.

“I don’t doubt some of these buildings will be less than ideal for modern needs, some of the locations on the list are very worrying whilst closure of any of the Argyll stations is unacceptable.

“With five stations in Argyll under threat suggests we could have next to no visible police presence on the West coast at all.

“While many people do use phone and the internet to interact with police, there is still a significant number of people – many elderly and vulnerable – who do not. Accessibility is paramount.

“In the past, Police Scotland have handled counter closures badly, so lessons must be learned.

“While there is much to be said for co-location of public services, such as Police and Fire or Police and Council sharing, we must prevent withdrawal from communities.

“Public confidence is vital. I look forward to the Chief Constable’s reply.”

John welcomes police commitment on dangerously slow driving

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has urged police to take seriously the issue of dangerously slow driving on roads like the A82, and says he welcomes Police Scotland’s positive response.

John wrote to Police Scotland leadership to raise the issue of slow driving, which is especially prevalent on scenic roads during the tourist season.

In reply, the Local Area Commander for road policing in the North, Chief Inspector Louis Blakelock, recognised the problem, saying:

“You correctly raise the point that inappropriate speed, like driving too slow, does as you suggest lead to frustration and irresponsible driver behaviour.

“Driving slowly, causing tailbacks and frustration is a behaviour that falls within the provisions of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Careless Driving) and this type of behaviour is one that is routinely addressed by Police Officers patrolling the A82 and other roads.

“I wish to reassure you that Police Officers tasked with patrolling the A82 will be made aware of your concerns and they will continue to challenge inappropriate speed in the circumstances you describe as part of their core duties on the A82 and other trunk roads”

John said:

“While excessive speed remains one of the biggest threats to safety on our roads, driving too slowly on trunk roads is also a significant problem.

“During tourist season especially, queues can readily form on our trunk roads behind vehicles travelling 30mph whose occupants are effectively sight-seeing.

“This of course causes great frustration and can lead to increased danger from behaviours such as irresponsible overtaking.

“I’m pleased with Ch Insp Blakelock’s positive response to the issue, and I hope the increase in dedicated Road Policing Officers will help keep vital roads like the A82 flowing smoothly and safely.”

John seeks assurances on armed police

 

Yesterday (Thursday 17th June) the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson announced that the number of armed police officers in Scotland was set to rise following intelligence about the on-going threat level in the country. You can read the Cabinet Secretary’s, including John’s question here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10472&i=96491&c=1926523#ScotParlOR

Commenting afterwards John said:

“The Justice Secretary must accept that there will be serious public concern about today’s announcement. Although there is information informing the threat level, we must question the quality of the intelligence received and whether it has been obtained legitimately, especially in light of recent revelations about the Scottish Recording Centre.

“I previously challenged Police Scotland over the deployment of armed officers on routine activities. The public will rightly be wondering if the increase in numbers of armed officers will lead to mission creep. I welcome today’s assurance that the deployment policy implemented two years ago will be maintained, meaning that armed police should only be used in firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.

“If the threat level reduces we must see a reduction in use of armed officers. In putting that point to the Justice Secretary he conceded that a reduction in threat level would allow the level of deployment to be revisited, and I would hope we reach that point in the near future.”

 

Scottish Recording Centre surveillance breaches human rights

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalJohn Finnie has questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice about the latest revelations of the use of mass surveillance by Scottish police.

Documents released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden show that a policing body called the Scottish Recording Centre was given access to swathes of communications data including phone activity, internet histories and social media behaviour.

John is the Scottish Greens spokesperson on Justice, and a former police officer himself.

He said:

“This sort of blanket surveillance is out of proportion, inefficient and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Cabinet Secretary today attempted to give the impression that all policing activities in Scotland are proportional and that interceptions are independently approved but as we know that is not always the case.

“There is clearly a culture of bulk collection of data that needs reined in. I will continue to challenge such over-reaching activities.”

You can read John’s exchange with the Justice Minister in the Scottish Parliament Official Report, or watch it on YouTube.

John appointed to two Holyrood committees

Large committee room in the Scottish Parliament
Photo: Adam Elder / Scottish Parliament
John Finnie has been appointed to the Scottish Parliament’s committees on Justice and on Rural Economy and Connectivity.

John has served on the Justice Committee since 2011, drawing on his experience as a former Northern Constabulary police officer. Most notably, he used Justice Committee hearings to hold Police Scotland to account over officers carrying firearms while on routine duties – a campaign for which he received the title of Community MSP of the Year at the 2014 Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards.

His appointment to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee – which is also responsible for transport, agriculture and the Islands – reflects John’s new role as the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Rural & Island Communities, as well as remaining the party’s spokesperson on Justice.

John said:

“I’m delighted to be appointed for a second term on the Justice Committee, where my priorities will include restoring the community ethos to Scottish policing, and defending our hard-won human rights.

“Joining the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is an exciting opportunity to push for the investment the Highlands and Islands needs to make the most of our huge potential in sustainable industries like food, forestry and clean energy.”

The Committees are a vital part of the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood only has one chamber – it has no equivalent of the House of Lords – so the Committees are responsible for making sure proposed new laws, and the work of the government, are scrutinised in detail. Committees can also conduct inquiries into issues within their policy area, calling witnesses including government ministers and officials, outside experts, and people who are directly affected.

The six Green MSPs were appointed to a total of 11 Committee places. The other Green assignments are:

  • Ross Greer (West Scotland) — European and External Relations Committee; Education and Skills Committee
  • Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) — Finance Committee; Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee
  • Alison Johnstone (Lothian) — Health and Sport Committee; Social Security Committee
  • Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) — Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee
  • Andy Wightman (Lothian) — Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee; Local Government and Communities Committee

You can see the full line-up for all of the new committees in the Scottish Parliament Official Report.

John’s call to save Inverness police control room

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.

John said:

“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.

John Comments on Increased Food Thefts in Highlands

Commenting on the statement by Ch. Supt Julian Innes that the police believed the rise in shoplifting in the Highlands and Islands was as a result of people struggling to feed themselves.

John said:

“The police service works in our communities. They understand our communities.

“When we have a senior figure like Chief Superintendent Julian Innes, who is well respected, laying out very, very clearly that people are stealing foodstuffs to sustain their living, then that’s a shocking state of affairs. I do not believe that Ch. Supt Innes would have said what he did without serious evidence to the case.

“Of course there have always been thefts, and no-one is condoning theft for one second, but in the past it has been thefts of luxury items. These thefts are obviously not luxuries , they are for the basics.

“These are obviously people who are hard pressed, people who are in dire straits.  We have heard of cases from across the UK of those who have had benefits sanctioned needing to resort to theft in order to eat. That it may now be happening in the Highlands and Islands is utterly depressing. The UK Government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to stories of such desperation. I am writing to the UK Government urging them to tackle such desperation.”