A SCOTTISH police force may lose its 130-year-old mounted police section amid talks over budget savings.
Lothiand and Borders Police’s mounted unit, based at Fettes in Edinburgh, could be absorbed into Strathclyde police’s larger mounted section, sparking fears over cutbacks.
Plans unveiled today (wed) detailed how the unit’s five horses could be transferred to a farm in Ayrshire, and it’s seven police officers deployed elsewhere.
The force spends £52,000 a year on food, care and equipment for the animals.
A replacement horse carrier will also set the force back £100,000, money which would be saved if the unit was to move.
The horses would only return from Ayrshire for specific duties under the plans, sent to the force’s police board.
The horses are currently used for mounted patrols in Edinburgh city centre.
Superintendent Douglas Lynch, branch commander for special operations and the unit’s commanding officer, said: “We’re going through a root and branch review of all areas of service delivery, but also looking at what can be joined up naturally with other forces.
“Only ourselves and Strathclyde have a mounted section. There was an option to disband the section, but we did not perceive that as the way to go.
“Strathclyde have a set-up four times the size of ours in terms of numbers of animals.
“A lot of people have a great affection for seeing the officers and horses out and about, but our overriding responsibility is to deliver services while making savings.”
He said the everyday work of the unit was being looked at to see what would be lost if it was to move.
He continued: “We would keep our stables at Fettes so horses could be kept there while being deployed in the force area.
“Officers from the mounted section could continue to train with the horses to build up their skills.
“They could then ‘buddy up’ with Strathclyde officers for duties in Lothian and Borders.”
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonal said: “I would hope this proposed decision can be justified in policing terms.
“I understand the need for savings but the first priority for the chief constable is to ensure the services being deliverd meet the needs of the area.”
Chief constable David Strang said a review of the service was needed despite it being in existence for ‘over 130 years in various guises.’
Councillor Iain Whyte, police board convenor, said: “The chief constable has given me assurances that the transfer of the mounted section will not diminish the services of Lothian and Borders, but it’s something the police board will have to look at carefully.
“But given the savings needed, and with the Scottish government’s decision to move to a single police force, the mounted section is obviously an area which can be looked at.”
Describing the origins of the unit, a former mounted police officer said: “We used to have special constables who borrowed horses from the Royal Scots Greys at Redford Barracks, and it started off from there.
“It was always grey horses they used to have.”