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Opposition parties call for BTP merger to be halted

A study has found the majority of British Transport Police officers and staff north of the border do not support integration with Police Scotland.

Opposition parties have urged ministers to halt plans to integrate transport policing in Scotland into the national force.

The call came as new research revealed almost two thirds of British Transport Police (BTP) officers and staff in Scotland have considered leaving their job because of the merger with Police Scotland.

The findings, published by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR), were released just a day after it was confirmed the controversial merger – due to take place in April 2019 – has been delayed indefinitely.

Police Scotland said “unresolved issues” meant that integration cannot be completed by the deadline “without compromising public safety”.

Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said the Scottish Government had been forced into an “embarrassing, humiliating u-turn”.

“Given that we now know that eight in 10 BTP officers and staff oppose the merger outright, will they (ministers) listen to them and consider calling the whole thing off,” he said.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the joint programme board overseeing integration had been “handed a poisoned chalice”, adding the “politically driven merger should not go ahead until a proper business case has been published, scrutinised and approved by this Parliament”.

Labour’s Daniel Johnson also called on the government to “listen to those voices of frontline officers” and halt the merger.

The SCCJR study, which earlier this month surveyed 66% of those working for BTP in Scotland, uncovered a “deep strain of scepticism, cynicism and opposition” towards the integration plan.

It found 64% of officers and staff had considered leaving because of it, while 83% were either quite or very unsupportive of it.

Factors included ongoing uncertainty over terms, conditions and pensions, as well as stress and low morale related to the merger.

The study also states: “Many respondents viewed the merger as politically or ideologically motivated, citing the lack of a robust business case as evidence.”

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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (PA)

Despite opposition, legislation for the merger was narrowly passed at Holyrood last year, with ministers insisting it would make transport policing more accountable.

The government said integration would provide “a single command structure, with seamless access to wider support facilities and specialist resources”.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has said he remains committed to fully implementing the plans.

“What we have under the re-planning exercise that is now being taken forward by the joint programme board is an opportunity to look at some of the issues that still need to be resolved,” he told MSPs.

“As part of that, it will allow us to take advantage of this additional time to enhance our communication with staff, officers and with the rail operators around the benefits of integration and the merger.”

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