Tuesday, 4 July 2017

“The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter”

That’s what the Smith Commission had to say about the future of railway policing in Scotland. The British Transport Police comes within the purview of the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government have used their new powers to pass a Railway Policing Bill, with Green support, that will break up the British Transport Police in Scotland and merge its functions into Police Scotland, against the advice of experts, officers and staff.  

Against the wishes of the STUC too, expressed in resolutions backed by rail unions and public sector unions alike.

There is no reason why the devolution of the British Transport Police should mean the dissolution of the British Transport Police. Breaking up the BTP is a choice. A political choice. It didn’t have to happen. 

In response to the Smith Agreement, the British Transport Police Authority set out a range of options, including alternatives to a merger that would allow us to retain the British Transport Police as a specialist service but with enhanced accountability to the Scottish Parliament. The best of both worlds for railway policing. 

Yet it is telling that the Scottish Government were only prepared to consult on one option – dismantling the British Transport Police in Scotland.

BTP officers and support staff provide a good service. They are public servants in a unique police force – one of the best in the country – with specialist skills and experience in preventing terrorism, protecting transport hubs, managing major incidents and keeping the railways running safely.
BTP has been subject to more inspections than any other police service in the country and is consistently found to be efficient, effective and to carry the confidence of the travelling public.
Not one of the principal stakeholders involved with the British Transport Police believes that its abolition in Scotland is necessary. Not one would support it. Not the train companies. Not the officers. Not the staff.
When the Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence on the Bill, the majority of respondents raised substantial concerns about the terms, conditions and pension rights of BTP officers and support staff.

When the Scottish Parliament voted on that Bill, no settlement had been negotiated and no agreement had been reached. The level of engagement between Ministers and the relevant unions has been dismal. So much for the fair work agenda. So much for partnership. 

In the days before the vote, Nigel Goodband, the Chair of the British Transport Police Federation, personally wrote to the Transport Minister and warned that at a time of heightened security when the terrorist threat is severe, it would be “imprudent” to push ahead with the merger. 

The TSSA say the Bill amounts to a “downgrading” of security of Scotland’s railways.

The RMT warned that the railway policing specialism would be diluted, eroding skills and experience built up over decades, and they said the Bill had come at the worst possible time. 

Merging the British Transport Police with Police Scotland is wrought with risks. Risks no responsible government should take. Yet the Scottish Government continued regardless. 

There is understandable dejection amongst BTP workers after the Parliament’s decision but we were able to secure one small victory that may prove to be important in years to come. 

Amendments I put forward that would ensure trade union representation on a new Railway Policing Management Forum were accepted and the Scottish Government also agreed to include trade unions and staff associations on a list of statutory consultees. 

This Bill is a bad Bill. It is not a Bill I could possibly support. However, in ensuring trade unions are mentioned on the face of the Bill, we have guaranteed that whatever happens with this merger, workers will have their say in the future of railway policing.  

 Neil Bibby MSP

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