POLICE chiefs were left in doubt that closing the reception desk at Lerwick police station at night and making three office staff redundant was “completely unacceptable” when they met councillors on Tuesday morning.
After grilling Northern Constabulary’s head of northern division for 90 minutes, Shetland Islands Council’s infrastructure committee agreed unanimously to resist the proposed reduction.
The council’s two representatives on the Northern Police Joint Board have been given clear instructions to argue the islands’ case at the board’s meeting on Friday in Inverness.
Northern Constabulary is currently trying to identify £4.7 million in savings (nine per cent of its overall budget) for next financial year. Further cuts are expected for the years 2012 to 2015.
Proposals on the table for Shetland are to close Scalloway and Dunrossness police stations as of 31 March 2011, lock the front door of Lerwick police station from 8pm to 8 am seven days a week, and make three office staff employed at the Lerwick station redundant.
The measure is part of a wider plan to close 16 police stations and cut operating hours at 10 more stations across the highlands and islands.
The Shetland element of the proposals would save around £120,000 from the £10 million budget for the northern division.
The force hopes to realise £35,000 from the sale of Scalloway police station and £215,000 from the Dunrossness station, funds that would not count as savings but would go towards future capital projects across the area.
Meanwhile a police presence in Shetland’s south mainland will be continued by transferring operations to a small office within Sumburgh airport.
Superintendent Julian Innes gave councillors a short presentation on the financial constraints following the Scottish budget announcement last week.
He said that while the pressure to identify this level of savings was “unknown territory” for police officers, the overall demand was not as severe as initially feared.
The savings needed could well be “around six per cent” rather than the nine per cent anticipated, but he was unable to give councillors more details prior to Friday’s meeting.
While making savings was inevitable, “the executive team is keen to keep police numbers as high as possible,” he stressed.
Council convener Sandy Cluness was the first to voice concern about changing Lerwick police station from a 24/7 service.
“We are paying £1.8 million a year towards policing, closing the police station for 12 hours a day is simply not acceptable,” he said.
Superintendent Innes said closing the front door did not mean that the station was unmanned, it only rationalised call handling, which would be done from divisional headquarters in Wick.
He added that statistically very few people call along Lerwick police station after 8pm.
Police board member Allison (Flea) Duncan called on Mr Innes to consider opening the station for longer hours during the weekend and closing earlier during the quieter week days.
Fellow board member Alistair Cooper warned that with the influx of up to 1,000 oil construction workers expected to relocate to Shetland for the next three years, the islands needed more rather than fewer officers.
Mr Innes told councillors that he could understand their “feelings and fears regarding the local service” and assured them that there were “no plans to lose any police officers from Shetland”.
“Your message is loud and clear, and I understand fully what I am being told here today,” he said.
He added that there were no plans to withdraw police services from Unst, Yell or Whalsay.
The Northern Joint Police Board meet on Friday at 1pm in the council chambers of Highland Council in Inverness, The meeting will be broadcast on the internet via the Highland Council website.
The best value paper being presented to the board also says that Shetland Islands Council is considering sharing use of the police station in Brae.