Last week Andrew called an adjournment debate on local policing. He took the opportunity to raise his concerns over the potential closure of Portlethen Police Station in particular, drawing attention to the impact it will have on the local community.
Andrews full speech can be read here;
"Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am delighted to have secured this adjournment debate today and I would like to thank…
Mr Deputy Speaker, the safety and security of our people and their property is one of, if not the, primary role of Government.
And in this country, we are lucky that we have, in our police forces, a body of dedicated, professional men and women, ready and willing to take upon themselves the heavy duty of policing, by consent of the public, our country and ensuring their safety.
And in this Conservative Party, we have a Government that is committed to supporting the police service, and all those that serve in it, carry out their increasingly complex and difficult job. It is in our DNA. It was Sir Robert Peel, the father of the Modern Conservative Party who, in 1829, through his Metropolitan Police Act, created the first civilian, professional, centrally organised and police force for Greater London established on the principal of policing by consent. “Recognis(ING) always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”
That is why this Government has committed itself to putting more police on the streets of England and Wales.
Putting 20,000 more police on our streets backed by £750 million recruitment campaign. We’re giving police enhanced powers to crack down on violent crime.
We’re giving police forces £10 million in additional funding to significantly increase the number of officers carrying a Taser.
And much more.
And we are committed to maintaining local, democratic accountability of police forces across England and Wales through our elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
And through our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill we are backing our police officers with the powers they need to keep themselves and the public safe, and in doing so, recognising the unique sacrifices they make on a daily basis.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Policing is devolved. That was a decision taken in 1999 and one I wholeheartedly support – for, like our continued support for locally elected police and crime commissioners, I believe that power over such things should lie at the closest possible to the public.
But that does not mean that policing exists in a vacuum, in a silo that somehow ends at Berwick and Llanymynech. Even more so in the digital age, our forces co-operate on a number of fronts, and up and down the country.
That being the case, I envisaged this debate as an opportunity to let MPs from every part of this United Kingdom, of all parties, reflect on the challenges faced by local policing in their constituencies. Whether that be due to geography, financing, or down to the impact of Covid-19.
In my own constituency, following the tragedy on the railway last year at Carmont, we saw British Transport Police keeping passengers safe and working closely with Police Scotland to secure the site and assist with the investigation.
In the largest joint operation to take place in Scotland and perhaps Britain, Operation Venetic involved police forces across the UK and the National Crime Agency.
In July last year it resulted in 59 arrests, the seizure of £7 million of laundered cash, guns, ammunition, explosives, stolen vehicles and industrial pill presses, along with a major haul of drugs of every classification.
It ended in the takedown of a digital platform, Encrochat, used by criminals across the world to get poison into our communities. Technology that doesn’t respect borders, political or geographical.
In the North East we have seen many examples of what is known, perhaps too blithely, as cuckooing. The last step in what is often referred to as “County Lines" drug trafficking where dealers from large cities expand their operations into smaller towns.
They endeavour to exploit young and vulnerable people to sell drugs, carry cash and weapons – bringing violence, coercion and abuse.
They may also take over a vulnerable person’s house. And this again is where policing blurs lines between public protection and being present and knowledgeable in the communities where officers live and work. Acting on intelligence that’s been passed on by colleagues in the north of England or the Met.
This brings me on to the subject proper of local policing, and particularly the presence and visibility of local officers.
Even today I have obtained figures which show a serious reduction in the number of beat bobbies since 2017, almost 80 officers in A division alone. Of course, it can be shown that the number of national officers have increased, but that is of little value to someone who has been broken into in Kemnay, or a school is vandalised in Laurencekirk.
Our hardworking officers on the frontline in Aberdeenshire deserve to be fully resourced.
The closure of stations like Portlethen will only heighten this.
Communities like Portlethen deserve more police patrolling their streets. Instead, if the station closes, officers will be based 10 miles away in Stonehaven.
Sadly however, within Scotland, despite the excellent work of individual officers and cross border working on so many issues, over the past few years we have seen increasing centralisation of police services in Scotland with the loss of local accountability following the merger of the eight police forces in Scotland into Police Scotland in 2013 governed by the Scottish Police Authority who are accountable to Scottish Ministers.
And in 2017, we saw the closure of the Aberdeen and Inverness Control Rooms, which followed Dumfries, Stirling and Glenrothes, with the whole country now covered by Dundee, Motherwell and Glasgow.
It is now questioned whether Peel himself said, "The police are the public and the public are the police." But that principal is at the very heart of how the police in this country operate. And very often, it is about the presence of the police in a community that can make people feel safer and more secure.
And at the very heart of that principal, at the very heart of how we police this country, how our people are protected from harm, is the idea of local, community policing. A police presence in each local community.
Now, Police Scotland are an excellent police force. Its officers carry out their duties diligently and with commitment to the people of the communities they serve. And I am proud to say how often I hear constituents praising the police officers.
But I fear the work they do, particularly in the North East of Scotland where I represent, the Old Grampian Police Area is being undercut by decisions made in Edinburgh.
Across Scotland, since 2015, there have been 134 police station closures. 5 in Aberdeenshire, a large part of which I am privileged to represent. In Aberdeenshire, not withstanding the incredible work of the local police officers, crime has actually increased by 5% in this period. And figures show that police numbers have dropped by almost 80 since 2017. How is the main priority of local policing, that is keeping people safe through a community-based approach, to be achieved if we do not have the numbers or the proper resources?
Our communities and our hardworking officers on the frontline deserve better.
I must say now, I know that the Minister has no responsibility for these decisions. But as a constituency MP, I have had hundreds of emails and letters about local policing matters since my election to this place and, although I know she cannot, by the powers of her office, affect any of these decisions, I believe I have a duty as a locally elected representative to raise those concerns brought to me by my constituents and raise them in this, sovereign parliament of the United Kingdom, to which I am lucky enough to be elected.
In response to a local consultation on the proposed closure of its police station, over one hundred residents of Portlethen, a large and growing commuter town on the edge of Aberdeen, expressed their concern that a permanent presence in their community would be lost.
I should be clear, many people did express their concern that on the occasions they had knocked on the door there was no one in…and that few people had called in due to the common knowledge that it was unstaffed most of the time, but to me that is a result of under staffing and a lack of investment and not an argument to close the station and create a hub at Stonehaven, about 10 miles away further down the coast.
Portlethen is a growing town, close to Aberdeen City, on the East Coast Rail Line.
And I am not for one minute suggesting that I, or indeed that the community is wedded to the existing building. It is clear from having visited, it is not what the public expect of a modern local police station.
But to remove the physical, permanent presence of the police from Portlethen altogether is I think a move based on budgetary decisions made in Edinburgh more than the needs of the local area in Portlethen itself. It will mean the police officers will be worked even harder than they are, will by necessity provide a more reactive service with less ability to provide proactive intelligence gathering and, ultimately, reduce the level of community policing we know, across the UK, is valued by all our constituents.
It is known that the North East Division of Police is 60 officers under establishment; we know the pressure the police service across the country is under- not least in this year of dealing with enforcing covid regulations and preparing for COP 26 – on top of their usual duties.
The closure of Portlethen Police Station, as an example of a move away from having a permanent police presence in our communities is a worry to many people. And I do urge those in charge to look at alternatives. Not necessarily maintaining the present building, but using imagination and investment to build a better more visible police force in my part of the country.
I must make it clear I do not blame Police Scotland for this. I do however, point the finger of blame at the Scottish Government. For example one of the biggest barriers to keeping police offices open, even for a few hours a week in more rural areas, is non domestic rates.
Again, this is not an issue which will be specific to Scotland, but Police Scotland’s capital spending is at 38th out of 42 UK forces when considered per employee.
I do wonder, if we had more local accountability in Scotland – if we had elected police commissioners or even local authority police boards- with connection to local communities, if we would be seeing decisions like this in Scotland today.
Mr Deputy Speaker, every constituency in this house is represented ably by passionate, committed Members of Parliament. We know and we hear the concerns of our constituents on a whole heap of issues every single day.
I could not not raise those issues when presented with this opportunity today.
I therefore thank you Mr Deputy Speaker and the Minister art the Despatch Box and know that he will join me in thanking all those in the police service, across the whole UK, for keeping us safe. Commend the police forces for their incredible work, cross border across our one nation and reiterate our commitment to and our championing of local policing, be that in Aberdeenshire or Aberystwyth.