MSPs to study British Transport Police merger plans

From the BBC News on 01/11/2016

MSPs are to question police chiefs about plans to absorb transport policing into Police Scotland.  A Railway Policing Bill is to be introduced at Holyrood to push forward devolution of the field.  This will include the functions of the British Transport Police being taken over by Police Scotland.

Representatives of the BTP Federation, which has raised concerns about the move, will join a round-table session with Holyrood’s justice committee.  Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the Scottish Institute for Policing Research will also take part in the panel.

Absorbing transport policing into Scotland’s single force has been a long-running goal for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

The BTP itself wanted to continue providing the service, but with oversight from Holyrood instead of Westminster after devolution, and three railway unions came out against the plan.

But the Scottish government said integration would “ensure the most efficient and effective delivery of all policing in Scotland”.

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A Railway Policing Bill was announced in the latest Scottish programme for government, which would complete devolution of policing and put in place funding arrangements for integration.

The justice committee will hear from top officers from each of the groups concerned during its round-table session.

The British Transport Police Federation has already highlighted concerns with the plan in submissions to the committee, saying that “the current climate of policing within Scotland does not lend itself to integrating the BTP and what is a successful model of policing”.  They said Police Scotland “is still very much in its infancy”, adding that “no evidence to date has been able to state clearly what, if any, advantage there would be in dismantling the current BTP model of policing in Scotland and integrating it within a geographical routine form of policing.”

The group further noted concerns about interruptions in the level of service for the estimated 21m passengers who make cross-border journeys each year, and about the potential for BTP officers being pulled away from their core duties to “bolster the resilience of Police Scotland” in other areas.

However, the group concluded that they would “work with the Scottish government to seek the best possible outcome” for officers and the travelling public, a sentiment echoed by the BTP itself in its submission.

The Scottish government has insisted that the specialist skills and knowledge of BTP officers would be maintained, but said this could be achieved “from within our national police service”.

The Scottish Institute for Policing Research meanwhile said there would be “complexities” in any merger, highlighting the importance of “careful scrutiny” of financial, strategic and operational aspects.