Chris Marshall: Tough job awaits new police chief

Police Scotland has had a difficult few months under Sir Stephen House's leadership. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Police Scotland has had a difficult few months under Sir Stephen House's leadership. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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NEW POLICE chief faces tough task to win over his troops, writes Chris Marshall

We have all heard of organisations where staff feel overburdened and unloved by their employers and where many are desperate to leave.

It’s a description which could apply to just about any workplace in the country depending on who you ask and when.

A survey of around 12,000 staff released by Police Scotland last week found the national force is one such workplace.

Carried out by independent research company Axiom, the survey found that 47 per cent of respondents felt “overloaded” with information, while only 30 per cent felt they received recognition of good work.

Perhaps most worrying of all for the top brass was the statistic that 31 per cent of police officers and 36 per cent of police staff plan to leave the force in the near future.

It’s fair to say Police Scotland has had a difficult few months.

The rows over stop and search and armed policing were followed by police watchdog investigations into the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh and the failures surrounding the force’s response to the M9 crash, which claimed the lives of John Yuill and Lamara Bell.

Most recently, the force has faced questions over the search for missing pensioner Janet McKay and the death of 89-year-old Elizabeth Iggulden.

But it would be wrong to equate Police Scotland’s annus horribilis with low morale among the rank and file as detailed in the staff survey.

The negative press headlines cannot have helped, but of those expressing dissatisfaction with life in Police Scotland, the most common complaint was more personal.

According to the Axiom survey, the reason given most often by respondents for negatively influencing their commitment to Police Scotland was changes to their pension.

Nearly half of those who responded to the question cited pension reform, in contrast to 9 per cent who blamed management style and just 2 per cent who singled out Police Scotland’s “organisational culture”.

The survey did highlight that many police officers have concerns about the force’s “one-size-fits-all” mentality, but the results of the poll were not the vote of no confidence in the national force that some have made it out to be.

In many ways that will make the job of Police Scotland’s new chief constable even more difficult.

The recruitment campaign for the new chief was officially launched on Monday by the Scottish Police Authority.

SPA chairman Andrew Flanagan said the holder of the £212,000-a-year post would be charged with cultivating a working environment that would “inspire and energise” officers and staff.

He said all those shortlisted for the job would be asked how they would address the issues raised by the workforce survey.

However, the matter of pension reform, which has stopped officers being able to retire on 30 years service, is something the new chief constable will be able to do very little about, given that it is a matter for the UK government.

Whoever the new chief is, their job will be to restore staff morale.

There are some indications from the staff survey that there are foundations on which to build in that respect. Three-quarters of those polled thought people in their team worked well together, while 83 per cent said they were treated with respect by their colleagues.

The new chief constable will need to seize on those stats to help restore harmony in the national force.