Aberdeenshire SNP in Police and Fire Accountability Plea

>> 14 November 2012

The Leader of Aberdeenshire's SNP Councillors has expressed his fears for local police and fire accountability, after plans were unveiled which would effectively strip the North and South of Aberdeenshire of any influence over how the services operate.

Shadow Leader of the Council Cllr Hamish Vernal made the call in response to proposals placed before Aberdeenshire Council, which if approved would see the authority's Policy and Resources Committee take on the local role of scrutinising the delivery of local policing and fire cover.

Scotland's eight regional police forces, in common with their corresponding fire services, are to merge to form a single national police and a single national fire service from April 2013. Although Scotland-wide boards will have strategic responsibility over the services, Scotland's 32 local authorities have been given a free hand in deciding what local accountability measures they wish to put in place.

The current 14-strong make up of Aberdeenshire's Policy and Resources Committee contains six councillors from the Garioch area, three from Formartine and two from Marr. However, if the proposal to take on oversight of local police and fire services is approved, people living in the Kincardine and Mearns, Buchan and Banff & Buchan areas would be represented by only a single councillor each, giving rise to concerns over how effectively the arrangement would work in practice.

In order to redress the geographical imbalance, SNP Councillors have proposed that a stand alone Public Safety Committee of 18 councillors be established, which would draw on 3 members from each of the six Area Committees. As well as overseeing local police and fire services, the new committee would also take responsibility for community safety and emergency planning.

Commenting, Cllr Hamish Vernal said:

“Moving to national police and fire services was the right thing to do and gives us the opportunity to make services more accountable than they were before”, said Cllr Vernal. “However, enshrining that local accountability from the outset is going to be key to delivering police and fire services which are responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.

“The Policy and Resources Committee already has a full agenda. Notwithstanding the obvious geographical imbalance in the committee, we have serious concerns about the ability of the committee to provide effective scrutiny and oversight of services given its current workload.

“We owe it to people in Aberdeenshire to get this reform right and to ensure that the governance arrangements gets off on the right foot. By ensuring that each part of Aberdeenshire has fair representation, this 'Blue Light' committee proposed by the SNP can combine national effectiveness with genuine local accountability.

“I call on other councillors, especially those who have been critical of national services in the past, to recognise the backward step for accountability which moving these functions to the Policy and Resources committee would represent.”

Cllr Stephen Smith, Vice-Convener of Grampian Fire & Rescue Joint Board, added:

“The current Police and Fire joint boards already have a full agenda. Even accounting for the new Scotland-wide arrangements, there's still a vital role for local authorities to play in offering effective local oversight.

“I think the people of Aberdeenshire expect proper accountability. The remaining work of the Joint Boards deserves much better than being relegated to an agenda item for a council policy committee – I'd urge the council leadership to think again and embrace this SNP proposal which would deliver genuine accountability for all parts of Aberdeenshire.”

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