From February into April, Edinburgh has witnessed a series of appalling attacks on Lothian Buses, endangering staff and passengers and halting many services in the evenings.
Last week the council finally got round to discussing the situation thanks to a Conservative motion calling for action. While the SNP-run council has condemned the actions of the vandals, they’ve done little else.
The answer to these issues is proper local policing that engages with the young people in our communities, works in partnership with other agencies like the council’s youth services, diverts young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour, and targets hotspot areas where attacks take place to catch the perpetrators. It effectively prevents the problem at source.
This is precisely what we had until 2013 under the former Lothian and Borders Police. It was driven by a much larger network of community-based officers who knew their areas and worked with the residents on problems.
I have every respect for the work our local police have done to resolve the attacks on our transport system. But there are not enough officers. The number of locally-based police officers in Edinburgh has fallen since the creation of Police Scotland while the population has risen inexorably. When averaged out per thousand residents, the local officers in Greater Glasgow outnumber ours by three to two.
Under Police Scotland, the focus and accountability of the service has centralised. Smaller numbers of local officers are unable to work on prevention as they chase around the endless stream of incidents. Through no fault of their own, their contacts with community councils and other local groups are limited.
The council doesn’t give enough time to scrutinise local policing, burying it in lengthy committee agendas. And previous attempts to argue for more local police resources have obviously fallen on deaf ears.
The council’s youth and community services have been slow to return from lockdown. I’m pleased that one SNP councillor, Kate Campbell, has highlighted the bureaucratic restrictions that have caused this. She seemed slightly embarrassed when I praised her actions at the council meeting. I hope she’ll carry on until she gets a result.
The bottom line is Edinburgh needs its fair share of local police officers so we can return to a preventative approach. The police focus on the task usually galvanises the partnership with other agencies too.
I know from my time on the Scottish Police Authority Board that the Police Scotland top-brass recognise the disparity between local police numbers in Edinburgh and elsewhere. I even agree with them that it will take time to sort.
However, the figures haven’t improved. And the soflty, softly approach of the SNP council’s lobbying has achieved nothing.
It’s high time the council stood up for Edinburgh and its needs as a capital city. Police Scotland and the Scottish government should show us a workable plan to give us a fair share of police resources. If they don’t, we should kick up a political stink until they do.