The controversy surrounding plans to merge the British Transport Police and Police Scotland has gained further attention this week as the Scottish Assembly announced that the timetable for the merger, and the deadline of April 2019, is now under review. A survey about the merger found that eight in 10 BTP officers are against the merger, considering it a politically motivated decision that will decrease the quality of operations.
The Prime Minister has weighed into the argument, emphasising the need for the focus of all policing operations to be on public safety.
Two defence ministers gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee and both separately acknowledged the MoD’s need for more money to meet recruitment targets and to enable the Armed Forces to defend the country. This comes as the MoD begins its Modernising Defence Programme which reviews defence spending and priorities.
British Transport Police merger with Police Scotland indefinitely delayed
The Scottish Assembly has announced that it will review the timetable for merging the British Transport Police (BTP) in Scotland with Police Scotland in order to “allow for enhanced engagement with officers, staff and their representatives on key issues, including pay and conditions.” The decision was made by the Joint Project Board, tasked with overseeing the merger and made up of representatives from the police, the Scottish Assembly and the UK Government. They announced that “a detailed re-planning exercise” will be undertaken over the coming months to determine how the merger programme will be delivered.
Subsequently, an urgent question on the matter was tabled in the Scottish Parliament. Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson and MSP for the Orkney Islands, asked what the Scottish Government’s response was to reports that the merger had been delayed. Mr Matheson answered on behalf of the Scottish Government, confirmed that the deadline of April 2019 was being revised, justifying it by saying that “a safe and secure transition” was the intention and “public safety was paramount.” Mr McArthur highlighted the serious concerns about the merger raised by the BTP including 64 percent of BTP officers in Scotland “giving serious consideration to leaving policing because of the merger.”
Mr Matheson referred to the future plans for the MDP, saying that the merger “will also ensure that we have an infrastructure arrangement for railway policing in Scotland that protects us from the United Kingdom Government’s plans to abolish the BTP and integrate it with civil, nuclear and Ministry of Defence policing, creating national infrastructure policing.” When Mr Matheson came under fire from the Conservative Shadow Justice Secretary and MSP for North East Scotland, Liam Kerr, for reversing his comments two weeks ago that a delay in the merger would be “preposterous,” Mr Matheson quoted the Conservative 2017 General Election manifesto which committed to creating “a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network.” Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson said that the delay reopened “the debate about whether this foolish and misguided merger should go ahead at all.”
The subject was raised in Prime Minister Questions in Westminster on Wednesday, as Douglas Ross, the Conservative MP for Moray asked whether the Prime Minister agreed that the Scottish Government must use the delay to “look at all options for the future of the BTP.” Theresa May responded saying that “the number one priority must be the safety of the public.”
Scottish Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, said that “the Scottish and UK governments are working together to ensuring the legislation passed by Parliament last year is implemented as effectively as possible.” This is the latest in one of the many controversies experienced by Police Scotland in its short history, which has seen both of its two Police Commissioners forced to resign before finishing their terms in office.
The Scottish Government’s reference to the proposed merger of the MDP with the BTP and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary is a reminder that the prospect of a future merger remains (albeit not imminently, with a Home Office-led review instead concluding a merger was not required in the short-term but instead pressing for greater interoperability between the police forces), but the merger between Police Scotland and the British Transport Police is likely to impact on plans for future mergers in the police. We will continue to monitor the situation.
Williamson gives evidence to Defence Committee
The Times has reported that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has given evidence to the Defence Select Committee for the first time since taking up his role, during which he stated that Russia and North Korea and “the speed at which they are escalating” are bigger threats to the UK than terrorism. He said that Britain has not had to consider state-on-state conflict for a generation and so the Armed Forces would require increased funding and a restructure in order to respond to it. He said that the UK’s NATO commitment to spend two percent of its GDP on defence was a floor and not a ceiling. Referencing the separation of defence from the National Security Capability Review, Mr Williamson said, “I’d rather be accused on taking too long to reach the right decision than reach the wrong decision.”
This represents a change from the priorities outlined in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, and Mr Williamson said the Modernising Defence Programme will reflect it. Mr Williamson said, “The state-based threat is something that has grown immeasurably over the last few years.” In recent years, Russia has increased its submarine activity tenfold, increased presence in conflicts such as that in Syria, and performed an annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine. Mr Williamson said he wanted to maintain the overall size of the Armed Forces and rejected cost-saving options proposed last year such as reducing its size by up to 14,000.
The DPF is currently drafting a response to the defence element of the review, the Modernising Defence Programme, in which it will outline its concerns about the threats to security at MDP-guarded sites resulting from cuts to the MDP.
Defence Minister makes direct plea for more money
The Times has reported that the Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, Tobias Ellwood, also gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee this week and said that the Armed Forces “need extra funds” in order to look after its people. The Defence Minister for Defence People and Veterans was giving evidence to the Committee on the state of military housing, plans to increase rent for service families, and the effectiveness of outsourcing accommodation. Mr Ellwood said that in order to ensure the professional armed forces are “attractive to the next generation,” they need to look after their personnel, and “to do that we need more money than we have currently got.”
Mr Ellwood has previously indicated that he would resign from the Government if the MoD was forced to meet the currently anticipated £20bn savings over the next 10 years. The MoD also has a shortfall of £8.5bn for “barracks and the defence estate over the next three decades.”
Mr Ellwood addressed the DPF’s parliamentary reception in December last year and continues to engage with the DPF where appropriate. We will continue to make the case for a properly funded MDP.
Army recruitment drive slowed down by bureaucracy
Bureaucracy and poor technical support is deterring prospective recruitment officers from completing their applications to join the Armed Forces in the midst of a recruitment crisis, The Times has reported. The recruitment process currently takes an average of 300 days, with many applicants dropping out in that time. MoD figures show that of the record 108,021 people beginning the process in the past 12 months to March 2017, only 7,966 became soldiers. The Army is currently 4,000 soldiers below its target strength of 82,000.
Armed Forces recruitment was outsourced to Capita in 2012 in a £400m contract to allow troops to focus on their duties. The current set-up has resulted in a record number of applicants failing to be converted into soldiers and the Army is subsequently putting more soldiers back into recruitment offices. Potential recruits will now be given a serviceman or woman as a point of contact instead of relying only on call centres and online contact.
Former Chief of General Staff, Lord Dannatt, said that “I’ve heard of a number of people who have been trying to join the armed forces and got fed up at the time it takes. The system is too complicated, the army knows the previous system was better and would like to go back to it. The reason why it’s not being done is because it’s too expensive.”