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Renewed calls for ‘unified’ control room

Police Scotland assistant chief constable Andy Cowie was area commander in Shetland between 2003 and 2006 - Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

FRESH calls have been made for the emergency services in Shetland to have a shared local control room.

Police Scotland assistant chief constable Andy Cowie told Friday’s community safety and resilience board meeting that while the long term “direction of travel” was towards pooling services, the force needs to be “pragmatic” in light of budget constraints.

The call was made by councillor Jonathan Wills, who also questioned why Lerwick Police Station isn’t open 24 hours a day.

While he acknowledged financial constraints, Wills said he has repeatedly supported having “unified” services locally instead of control rooms on the mainland.

At the moment 999 and 101 calls made in Shetland are answered in Inverness, while fire calls are now taken in Dundee.

Committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the “biggest issue in cohabiting” was the ‘very, very expensive’ cost of software and how systems could be integrated in the future.

Cowie said there was a long term emphasis on sharing resources, but “getting our houses in order” first was necessary.

He likened the progress to using “stepping stones” to travel across a river.

Cowie added that police chief constable Philip Gormley, who is due to visit Shetland in early March after a previous trip last year fell through due to poor weather, is “absolutely committed to localisation”.

Speaking later about the fire control room in Dundee, Cooper said he felt confident about the facility after visiting the centre in person.

The centre recently came under fire after crews in Bressay were sent to an incident in Yell due to geographical confusion.

Cooper used the example of a hypothetical call out to the Marlex pub in Lerwick, with a control room south unlikely to be aware of its colloquial name.

However, he suggested the reported Dundee incident was likely caused by human error – something which could also happen in a local control room.

Speaking after the meeting, Cowie said while the police force in Scotland is currently looking into pooling premises, sharing control rooms is more of a long-term option.

“Across all services, we’re looking at how we can deliver the best service within the budgets that we have been allocated, so we need to look at all of the options,” he said.

“Sharing services is a key one for us at the moment, and one thing we’re actively exploring is sharing premises, which is a fantastic way forward.

“At the moment around control rooms, it is a single service approach. We’re consolidating eight control rooms into a smaller number, and having one system linking them all. On an IT level that is very complex.”

Cowie, who said he would be passing on Wills’ concerns to Gormley, added that shared control facilities would be the ideal scenario for emergency services.

“If money wasn’t an option there would be a heck of a lot of things we’d like to do, and that is one of them,” he said.

Referring to the opening times of Lerwick Police Station, which is 8am to 6pm, chief inspector Lindsay Tulloch told the meeting that he preferred to have officers on the streets and across Shetland instead of manning the station.

However, Wills said there is a need to open the station at all hours, “sometimes as a point of reference for people in distress”.

Cowie stressed that the police service “needs to meet the needs of the public”, but he admitted the force is “not living in the land of plenty” and finances were a problems across Scotland.

Tulloch said he felt opening the station all day “wasn’t the best use of resources” to tackle his priorities of drug misuse, road safety, anti social behaviour and violent crime.

He said he was confident that the police service would be available 24/7 for the public despite not being based in a central location.

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