SCOTLAND’S most senior police officer has been forced to explain himself after missing a key meeting to discuss his force’s finances.
Christine Grahame, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, wrote to Sir Stephen House to express her “disappointment” after the chief constable was unable to attend an evidence session on the Scottish Government’s 2015-16 draft budget.
Ahead of the meeting, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) had raised concerns about Police Scotland continuing to be “stretched”, with officers “busier than ever”.
Sir Stephen’s office notified clerks late last month that he was unable to appear before the committee on Tuesday.
Sir Stephen told the committee he had a “prior commitment” and was unable to attend.
In her response, Ms Grahame, a SNP MSP, said: “Given that you have prime responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the police service, including the allocation and deployment of resources received from the Scottish Police Authority, I am disappointed to learn that it appears your priority has been not to attend this evidence session.
“As you are aware, parliamentary committees are rightly expected to undertake robust scrutiny of the public finances and, in order to achieve this, require those ultimately responsible for significant allocated public funds, such as the police, to make themselves available to assist with this important role unless absolutely unavoidable.”
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In his response, Sir Stephen said he shared the convener’s disappointment.
“Unfortunately, as I think you understand, I have a prior commitment which has been in my diary for many months and I do not feel able to break this at such short notice,” he wrote. “I also share your view that the evidence sessions on the budget for 2015 are extremely important and in light of this would ask that you give consideration to rescheduling my appointment with you so that I can provide you with evidence.”
Sir Stephen is now expected to appear before the committee on 25 November. In its submission on the Scottish Government’s draft budget, Police Scotland notes that more than 90 per cent of its £1 billion annual budget for 2014-15 was spent on staff costs, and required overall savings of £68.2 million to be made.
The force is committed to maintaining officer numbers above the 17,000 mark and will not make compulsory redundancies. However, it notes that, in order to achieve this, it will be required to make “difficult choices” about the service it provides.
The SPF, a staff association, warned the force will continue to be “stretched” in the coming year, particularly when policing major public events.
In its submission to the committee, the SPF warned that any change to police officers’ terms and conditions, as has happened in England and Wales, would be met with the “fiercest possible opposition” and considered a “flagrant betrayal”.
Next week, the justice committee will hear from prosecutors about the impact of the Scottish Government’s budget decisions. In its submission, the Procurator Fiscal Society said staff cuts at a time of increasing workload created a “huge risk” for the criminal justice system.
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