Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said he only advocated merging Scotland's police forces and fire services into single national units because UK government cuts had made it a "necessity".

During a debate on the general principles of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill at the Scottish Parliament today [10 May], Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie asked whether the "reform process is driven by protection from these so-called budget cuts from Westminster" rather than "a desire that the service that is now proposed is the best one for Scotland".

Mr MacAskill replied that: "I've always been quite clear that I actually came into situ having not been advocating for a single service, but the budget cuts (have made it) a necessity.

"On that basis, on discussion with those involved in the services, we have taken the view that we should make a virtue out of a necessity.

"I would simply say that when I attended the Scottish Police Federation a few weeks back I received a standing ovation.

"Meanwhile, I think 20,000 officers are marching in London as we speak against the UK Government and the Home Secretary."

He also argued that the pace of cuts was driving the speed at which the eight Police Forces and eight FRS were being merged, with the current project start date set for April 2013.

The Justice Secretary also said that officials will continue to negotiate with the Treasury to avoid a £30 million VAT bill to be levied on the new single force.

"While we costed reform on such a 'worst-case scenario', it would be a travesty if some of the potential benefits of those reforms were to be lost in this way," he added.

Speaking on behalf of the Justice Committee, deputy convener Jenny Marra told how some witnesses "argued that the Bill would erode the local authority role in policing and fire and rescue services".

Before going on to add that "the majority of the committee agreed with the latter view. We believe that reform presents an opportunity to enhance delivery across communities in Scotland."

Posted 10/05/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com