A petition calling on the council to reconsider ending the police community action teams (CAT) next year has generated local support.
Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) started the petition last month after the council approved plans to reduce funding for the teams this year and remove it altogether for 2017-18. The SNP-led administration has again defended the cuts, labelling Labour “disingenuous”, and said it was “absurd” for Midlothian people to pay more for police than other areas.
However, Councillor Muirhead told the Advertiser that local people are not happy with the cuts.
He said: “People have been passing the petition to other shops and we are getting really good feedback.
“I have been out and about on Saturday afternoons and I have yet to have somebody say they wouldn’t sign it. I was up at Penicuik last week and the response was amazing. Everyone was concerned about the cuts.
“The online version is sitting at about 600 at the moment. But the last time we did a petition the paper version numbers were five times more.
“The real cut bites next year. But the reality is that there will be a slowing down before then. They can’t redeploy people overnight.
“So the more pressure we put on earlier, in my view, the more likely we can change the minds of the administration, to admit that they have made a mistake here.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding as far as they are concerned on that.
“I’m asking people to speak to their local SNP councillors about this. By all means sign the petition but also put pressure on them.
“There has been no consultation whatsoever with anybody on whether it’s a good idea to cut that team.
“I think it is money well spent and we would see a real deterioration of the work that has been done if it goes.
“They do a lot of pro-active work that will either not be done, or the other officers will be taken away from their duties. The fact that there will now be specific officers for the ward areas will be helpful but it’s no good if they are pulled away to do the more pro-active stuff.
“We made a conscious decision here in Midlothian to get extra police on the ground. I think it’s acceptable for us to pay the extra money for an increased service. The SNP are using the argument that crime figures are down in Midlothian but surely that’s a reason to keep the CAT teams. I think it’s invaluable. I think it’s the best thing we did in power in my time as a councillor. We tried wardens but it became evident that they didn’t have the power and that we needed extra police.”
A Midlothian SNP spokesperson said: “Midlothian started paying for additional officers back when policing was funded through local joint boards.
“However, Police Scotland is now fully funded by the Scottish Government and benefiting from increased funding, while the local government budget has been continuously damaged from Westminster cuts.
“Midlothian Labour refused to take their seat on the local police boards for years so it’s a bit disingenuous of them to take an interest a few weeks before an election, on a decision made over a year ago – and even more absurd that they are asking Midlothian residents to pay more for police than East Lothian, Edinburgh or Glasgow residents.
“We have already seen Scottish Labour flip-flop and make embarrassing U-turns on a national level on important financial matters like income tax so it’s hardly surprising they can’t do the sums here either.
“An SNP Scottish Government has seen crime fall to a 41-year low and 1,000 extra police on our streets.”