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Concern as police control room set to close

Tavish Scott MSP: 'This obsession with centralisation shows no signs of slowing down'. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has attacked the Scottish Government’s “obsession with centralisation” after Police Scotland confirmed its Inverness control room is set to close in the coming months.

Chief constable Phil Gormley said there would be “improved service” as the control room service makes its long anticipated move to Dundee.

At the moment, emergency calls from Shetland – and the rest of the Highlands and Islands – are taken in Inverness.

When the north control room closes, calls from the isles will initially be handled by the National Virtual Service Centre in the central belt before Dundee decides what action should be taken.

Gormley met with the Highland council officials and local politicians in Inverness earlier this week to discuss the plans to shut the control room.

It has long been mooted for closure, but this was delayed following a report into Police Scotland’s call handling after it took three days to respond to a fatal crash near Stirling in 2015.

Gormley – who is currently under investigation for alleged gross misconduct – said there would no job losses in Inverness, and added that a new national database enquiry unit was expected to be set up in the city.

But Shetland MSP Scott, who has long rallied against services being centralised in Scotland, predicted that all emergency services could be conjoined in one location in the future.

A lack of local knowledge at centralised control rooms has often been stressed by islanders, with a fire crew from Bressay for instance called out by staff in Dundee to attend an emergency on the island of Yell.

“This obsession with centralisation shows no signs of slowing down,” Scott said.

“Even after a disastrous call handling situation all that the government did was to delay the inevitable. There seems little that stops all the emergency services’ 999 calls being centralised in one location under the guise of efficiency.”

The Aberdeen police control room has already been closed, while the Inverness fire room was shut last year to allow calls to be answered in Dundee.

Chairman of Shetland’s community safety and resilience committee Alastair Cooper said he still had some concerns about local knowledge and interpretation of location.

But he said it’s as “applicable in Inverness as it is in Glasgow”.

“The system, if it works, is good,” Cooper said.

“I’ve seen it in operation and all the tools they have at hand to do it. If it fails, it’s a human element.”

He used the example of how locals could give the police their location as outside the Marlex pub in Lerwick, when it is formally known as the Douglas Arms.

But he said gazetteers – an index of place names and locations maintained by the local authority and used by the police – have now been including that kind of information.