Scottish Government 'examining all options' over future of transport policing

27 August 2018, 19:03

British Transport Police

The controversial merger between the British Transport Police (BTP) and Scotland's national police force has been placed on hold.

The Scottish Government has announced it will explore further options over how to deliver the devolution of railway policing to Scotland - with the merger remaining a long-term goal.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said ministers remained committed to the full integration of railway policing into Police Scotland, but said there was a need to find "interim arrangements" that could give effect more quickly to the devolution of railway policing.

Scottish Labour said it was a "humiliating climbdown from the SNP".

The latest move follows information from Police Scotland relating to a current computer project and the impact of delivering railway policing integration.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government had to delay indefinitely the integration of BTP into the national force, which was due to take place in spring next year.

It has faced continued calls from rail unions to halt the merger.

Mr Yousaf said: "Throughout this process we have been committed to listening to officers and staff.

"As part of that ongoing approach I have decided that we will re-examine all options for the devolution of railway policing, with clear governance structures that ensure accountability to the Scottish Parliament.

"The absolute priority for all those involved is the safety and security of officers, staff and those who use Scotland's railways.

"I intend to update Parliament following summer recess.

"In the meantime I want to pay tribute to the ongoing commitment of officers and staff of both police services, who I look forward to engaging with on this matter in the very near future."

The devolution of railway policing was one of the recommendations of the Smith Commission in 2014.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, in his previous role as justice secretary, had spearheaded the legislation merging the BTP and Police Scotland through Holyrood - with the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill passed by MSPs despite criticism from opposition parties, the unions and others.

The merger was due to take place in April but the timetable was delayed.

Opposition politicians called for a rethink of the policy over the summer recess.

The Scottish Government said it will bring together Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, BTP and other partners to re-examine the available options.

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: "This is a humiliating climbdown from the SNP, but it is the right approach to the future of our railways.

"Now the government's dogmatic approach, which has has resulted in huge uncertainty for BTP officers and staff, must be stopped.

"The SNP's plans to merge BTP with Police Scotland was a senseless example of politics before proper public policy and the minimum that the government should do is re-examine its options.

"Ministers should listen to the BTP federation, railway unions and policing experts and rule out a merger completely."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: "This politically motivated merger is in turmoil, leaving BTP officers and staff in limbo. The Scottish Government's substandard planning and lack of business case has been thoroughly exposed.

"It is time ministers stopped muddling through and instead halted the merger altogether."