North SNP Councillors Comment on Police and Fire Vote

>> 27 November 2012

Peterhead and Fraserburgh SNP Councillors have joined forces to express their disappointment following a decision by Aberdeenshire Council last week to pass the scrutiny of Aberdeenshire-wide police and fire services to the Council's busy Policy and Resources Committee.

Peterhead South and Cruden Councillor Stephen Smith and Fraserburgh and District SNP Councillor Brian Topping had backed calls for a new Council 'Blue Light' committee to be set up to oversee local police and fire services, following the move to Scotland-wide services next year. However, the SNP proposal was voted down by the ruling administration, with the full support of local 'Independent' councillors.

The new arrangements mean that the Buchan and Banff and Buchan areas of Aberdeenshire Council will have just one member each representing them area on the 14-strong committee when it comes to Aberdeenshire-wide fire and police matters. In contrast, the Garioch area has six Councillors on the committee, four of whom represent the Inverurie and District ward.

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.

At the full council meeting, Councillors backed a proposal supported by the Aberdeenshire Council administration, which transferred the remaining work of the Grampian Police and Fire Joint Boards to the Council's Policy and Resources committee.

SNP councillors had earlier voiced fears that parts of Aberdeenshire risked coming off a poor second to areas which are better represented on the Policy and Resources Committee.

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

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

“I’m disappointed the council’s Administration Group has opted to go down this route.

“I don’t think it’s treating the police and fire services with the level of attention they deserve if we simply make them an agenda item in an already busy committee. We owed it to the staff and the general public to have a robust system in place for scrutiny and governance arrangements locally.

“In particular, today’s decision means that there is very limited scope for the views of staff bodies such as the Fire Brigades Union to engage with councillors under the new arrangements.

“This is a lost opportunity to put in place a new system which would have led to increased transparency and a greater level of engagement on police and fire issues.”

Councillor Topping, who is also a member of the Grampian Fire Board, said he was “disappointed” at the outcome.

“It's particularly disappointing given that the make-up of Policy and Resources Committee will mean that the North is very poorly represented when it comes to these vital matters of public safety.

“Local Independent Councillors who either voted for this or in one case didn't bother turning up at all have let their constituents down.

“This is a lost opportunity to put in place a new system which would have led to increased transparency and a greater level of engagement on police and fire issues.”

Note: The current 14-member Policy and Resources committee contains six councillors from the Garioch area, three from Formartine, two from Marr, and just one each from the Kincardine and Mearns, Buchan and Banff & Buchan areas.

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