Scottish devolution of BTP debated

MEMBERS of the Scottish Parliament have been debating the proposed devolution of British Transport Police north of the border.
The plan, supported by the SNP, involves merging BTP with the national force Police Scotland, affecting the jobs of 280 BTP officers.
If it went ahead, Scotland would be the first part of the United Kingdom not to have a specialist railway police force since the nineteenth century.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said the merger would ‘ensure that railway policing in Scotland is accountable, through the chief constable and the Scottish Police Authority, to the people of Scotland’. 
He continued: “We have made clear that specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of Police Scotland, with improved access to wider support facilities and specialist equipment, providing an enhanced service provision to both the rail industry and the travelling public.
“Integration of the 280 BTP officers into Police Scotland will also provide a more effective approach to infrastructure policing in Scotland, something which the committee has also recognised.”
Both Conservative and Labour politicians are opposing the idea and voted against it during sessions of the Justice Committee, which has been considering the implications since the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill was published in December. The Committee has now backed the reform in principle, although its members were divided after hearing the evidence. The plan has also been supported by Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.
Labour's justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “We have heard numerous concerns from BTP, staff, unions and railway providers that haven't been fully addressed by the SNP. There are clear operational and serious financial questions that remain unanswered by the government.
“We already have in Scotland a transport policing system that works and serves us well, but this Bill risks that. With concerns over the financial memorandum attached to this bill, this could prove to be a costly way to fix a problem that isn't broken.” 
The RMT said the plan made ‘no logical or financial sense’, while Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross described it as an ‘utterly needless move, inspired by nationalism rather than national security’.
BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther expressed concern when giving evidence to the Committee, telling MSPs that a merger could prove to be a ‘real challenge', and that it could cause a ‘significant outflow of expertise’.
Police Scotland has conceded that the change would be ‘complicated’, but also said it was ‘not insurmountable’.


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