The civilian watchdog for Police Scotland has been accused of taking a “backward step” after it emerged the board is to reverse a policy of meeting around the country.
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) said it will now focus on the central belt in order to cut travelling time for the “majority” of its members.
The SPA – set up to hold the chief constable to account – said the decision was taken because more members of the public watch the live stream of meetings online than in person.
But councillors in the north – where fierce debate has raged about officers carrying guns on routine patrols – have criticised the decision.
Angela Maclean, the convener of Highland Council’s community safety committee, said: “They cannot know the problems of the Highlands if they do not visit.
“This is a backward step.”
Her predecessor, councillor Drew Millar, said: “Given the fact that there is just one police authority for the whole of Scotland and that it is not a big country, I think it is wrong for them to stay in the central belt.
“There has always been a fear that when they set up the single force, that it would become centralised.
“This just adds fuel to that argument.”
Deputy council leader David Alston said: “I think it is a good thing for a national board to meet around the country.
“The Scottish Cabinet has managed to get out and about.
“This does not seem a good step.”
Since the board was set up in 2012, it has visited other areas outwith the central belt, including Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee.
The SPA held its board meeting in the Highland capital for the first time in March last year.
However, the meeting clashed with the council’s own community safety committee, meaning that the councillors responsible for scrutinising police matters were unable to attend the SPA debate.
The SPA returned to the city in November last year to take evidence on the issue of armed police.
No board meeting has ever been held in the Northern Isles or Western Isles.
A spokesman for the SPA said: “To be as accessible as possible, SPA took an early decision to spread as many of our public board meetings to towns and cities across the country.
“Our aim was to use those locations to offer opportunities for local interests to also engage with SPA members as well as observe our national discussions and scrutiny.
“Our practical experience was that despite invitations being opened to local elected members, community councillors, and various attempts to publicise meetings, the daytime nature of the meeting meant that relatively few members of the public were attending.
“We have subsequently introduced a livestreaming facility which enables people to watch the SPA public meetings on the internet, either live or recorded from the comfort of their own homes or offices.
“That has been successful with several hundred people logging on to the meetings. Going forward, we expect to hold the SPA’s public board meetings in a smaller number of locations which minimise travel and abstraction time for the majority of those routinely involved in them.”
Last night Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr backed the move, arguing that video-conferencing facilities mean it should not be a major problem.
And Highlands and Islands MSP, John Finnie said: “People may complain if they see hotel bills and travel expenses.
“There is a balance to be struck and I would like to see local authorities engaging more with the SPA.”
He added: “There needs to be a rationale and reassurance that this is not disengagement.
“What is more important is what they do at the meetings and on this they need to up their act.”
The board’s next meeting is on March 24 but the location has not been confirmed.