Gordon Crossan: Creation of Police Scotland is just the start of a ten-year journey

Changing demand for services will shape Police Scotland in the years ahead.
Changing demand for services will shape Police Scotland in the years ahead.
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The creation of Police Scotland in 2013 was described, at the time, as the most fundamental change to policing in 40 years.

I would argue, however, that the formation of a national police service from eight regional forces was actually just a transition.

The real hard work starts now, as Police Scotland starts a 10-year journey to transform itself.

This journey has been outlined in the 2026 strategic plan, jointly presented by Chief Constable Phil Gormley and Scottish Police Authority chairman Andrew Flanagan at the end of February.

It outlines how the service will set about reducing the demand on officers while changing how policing is delivered to best meet the challenges of new and emerging crime.

The budget has been set and includes £61m for reform, although some 40 per cent of that is set aside to pay the much-debated annual VAT bill.

The appointment of Deputy Chief Officer David Page has provided robust governance on financial decisions, and he also brings experience in managing change from the private sector.

It is all too easy simply to focus on budget issues, but there is a much wider context that has to be considered.

Demand has changed and continues to do so. Police Scotland now faces a range of issues that vary from terrorism and huge rises in cyber-enabled crime to an ageing population and mental health demands.

Clearly, we need a modern, progressive police service that can meet current and future demands.

Technology will play a huge part in this, ranging from the potential to make call-taking and handling more efficient through to managing, supporting and supplementing the police presence at crime scenes and other events.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is scope for Police Scotland to become smarter, leaner and more effective to respond to this future.

Officer reductions will be unpopular. But as part of the overall public sector reform we do need to look at innovative ways of improving service delivery, even when that service is currently built almost completely on people and their actions.

I suggest the service, and those who scrutinise us and hold us to account, needs to think differently and stop defining itself through officer and staff numbers.

Instead, we need to judge ourselves, and be judged, on the effect our people and what they do has across the communities we serve.

As well as a reduction in officer numbers, offset by the redeployment of officers currently carrying out “back office” roles, Chief Constable Gormley also announced a move to recruit specialist police staff, who have the skills and training to undertake tasks such as investigating cyber crime.

Decisions on what the service looks like and what skills its staff have are the chief constable’s to make. We can help him by ensuring the public come on this journey of change with us, so they understand, accept and support that policing will look different in the future to how it does today.

While not without its challenges, the Policing 2026 strategy is also a rare opportunity to change policing in Scotland to improve outcomes for communities, at the same time continuing to provide policing that is the envy of the world.

I encourage interested parties to take part in the consultation exercise and have their say on the future shape of policing in Scotland.

Chief Superintendent Gordon Crossan is president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.