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Systemic problems in early stages of single force reform masked greater consistency of service, MSPs told

Report findings uncover 'poor financial management, unclear lines of responsibility and a failure to focus on officer views'
Published - 25/03/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

Policing in Scotland needs to address improvements to “systemic failings” as one of the biggest transformations of a public service since devolution left the single force with more than just “teething problems”, according to a committee of MSPs.

Many of the problems faced by the eight-into-one creation of Police Scotland six years ago are down to poor financial management, unclear lines of responsibility and a failure to focus on the views of officers and staff in the early stages of reform of the force, a report admits today.

This is despite Holyrood’s Justice Committee concluding a greater “consistency of service” across Scotland, as well as allowing for more equal access to specialist capabilities and support as a result of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.

The committee report findings, published on Monday, came at the end of an 11-month inquiry into how the centralisation of the two services – Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – had fared and how effective the change has been.

Among the issues highlighted were forecast savings not being realised, IT problems hampering police effectiveness and a string of well-publicised personnel problems resulting in senior management “instability and concerns over a lack of clear leadership” in the initial years of the reform process.

A need for an exemption for police and fire services from the payment of VAT was also highlighted in the committee’s considerations.

The report set out a range of recommendations for improving Police Scotland, including; an overhaul of police complaints processes to create a more “equitable, clear and fair system”, a more proactive role by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in its oversight and scrutiny of new Police Scotland policies and to provide more robust financial projections.

The committee also suggested that the option of including the Scottish Parliament in the appointment process of the SPA chairman should be explored, as well as stating that the force and its oversight authority should demonstrate that recent improvements in leadership and governance would mean that previous “shortcomings caused by personality issues” could not reoccur.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “Our police and fire services do a vital job keeping people in Scotland safe. It is imperative that the structures and regulations underpinning these organisations work well.

“The justice committee has found that some of the problems it has seen can be traced back to the frameworks and relationships created by the Act itself.

“These are not simply ‘teething problems’ of a new service bedding in, but systemic problems that must be addressed.

“The committee has identified a raft of necessary improvements to regulations, structures and practices. Members look forward to working closely with the Scottish government and the organisations created by the Police and Fire Reform Act to implement changes.

“Reform of these frontline public services is one of the biggest challenges undertaken since the start of devolution in Scotland. It is in everyone’s interest that they succeed.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf added: “The people of Scotland are well-served by officers and staff in Scotland’s police and fire services who are working alongside communities and a range of partners to make Scotland’s streets and homes safer.

“I am very grateful to the Justice Committee for its work on scrutiny of the 2012 Act which was the largest exercise in public service reform since devolution.

“It has rightly recognised some significant achievements, including the creation of national capabilities in policing, described as ‘a success story for Scotland’ and improvements in how Police Scotland deals with sexual offences.

“This has been delivered alongside the Scottish government’s commitment to protect Police Scotland’s revenue budget during this parliament to deliver a total boost of £100 million by 2021 and the announcement of a 6.5 per cent pay deal for officers.

“The report also makes a number of recommendations which ministers plan to consider in full, alongside Police Scotland, SPA and SFRS over the coming months.

The report also noted that Dame Elish Angiolini is leading a review into complaints and conduct in policing.

SPA chairman Susan Deacon said: “It is clear that the creation of a single police service for Scotland has delivered significant benefits.

“I am pleased that the committee has acknowledged the improvements which have been made in the leadership and governance of both Police Scotland and the SPA since the early days of police reform.

“The SPA remains firmly committed to driving further improvement and change so that people across Scotland continue to have a strong and effective police service in which they can have confidence and trust.”

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