Yousaf must ‘end secrecy’ over police station closure plans

Wednesday, Oct 04, 2023

EDINBURGH: Humza Yousaf has been told to “end the secrecy” amid plans to close 30 police stations, including three in a crucial by-election constituency.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the Scottish Government of hiding the information “deliberately for political purposes” as the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election draws to a close later this week.

Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor announced last week that Police Scotland were preparing to sell another 30 of their buildings in an attempt to offset projected budget overspends of £19 million.

According to the Scottish Sun, the plans, which include the closure of a list of Lanarkshire police stations, were circulated to bodies including the Scottish Government, however they are yet to be finalised. It said the proposals – codenamed Project Quest – list stations which are “proposed surplus” buildings and include Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Blantyre, in South Lanarkshire – key areas in the by-election which concludes on Thursday.

First Minister Humza Yousaf, however, later said the decision was for Police Scotland and said the force was given an “increased” budget.Speaking to journalists outside Cambuslang police station on Tuesday, Mr Sarwar said: “The SNP have to end this secrecy. They have to come clean, they have to tell the truth to people in this constituency and across the country about what their plans are.

“But the idea that every single police station in this constituency faces closure is completely unthinkable and for them not to be upfront and truthful, it makes it sound like something has been hidden here deliberately for political purposes.”While on the campaign trail, Mr Sarwar spoke to an elderly woman who was looking to speak to officers inside the Cambuslang station about an incident, after her local Blantyre branch was closed. He said the interaction was “heartbreaking” and was a “very stark example of what that means consequentially for vulnerable people across our communities”.

But speaking to the media in Blantyre, Mr Yousaf said: “I’m really surprised (Mr Sarwar) is attacking Police Scotland in this way. Police Scotland have been absolutely transparent.“It’s a decision for Police Scotland to make, of course, about their own estate.

“My job is to make sure Police Scotland are fairly funded – we’ve done that. That’s why the budget for Police Scotland this financial year has increased and because of that increase we see more police officers per head than we see in England and Wales.

“But most importantly, people in Rutherglen and Hamilton West want to know their communities are safe, and recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels in almost 50 years.”

The Scottish Government has said £1.45 billion has been invested in policing in 2023/24, however police chiefs warned it will not be enough amid the projected £19 million overspend.

Meanwhile, the head of the Scottish Police Federation warned officer cuts could risk lives, with the organisation’s general secretary David Kennedy telling the 1919 magazine that cuts of 600 more officers could be on the table.

During Topical Questions at Holyrood, Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “While I am aware that there is a range of work under way in relation to the 2019 Police Scotland estate strategy, I am not aware of any specific details, including for Lanarkshire or indeed Dumfries.

“At no point has the Scottish Government requested any withholding of details as perhaps the member has read elsewhere in the press.”