Police Scotland was threatened by power struggles

Sir Stephen House: 'Gobsmacking major problem' with way act was written. Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Stephen House: 'Gobsmacking major problem' with way act was written. Picture: Robert Perry
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A THREE-WAY power struggle threatened the successful reorganisation of Scotland’s police into a new single force, a report from Audit Scotland reveals today.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House and Vic Emery, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), publicly battled for control over parts of the service in the run-up to its launch in April, including finance and human resources.

Both sought independent legal advice on the Scottish Government’s legislation, with Sir Stephen saying the confusion was down to a “gobsmacking major problem” with the way it was written, something ministers denied.

Today’s report, the first significant independent assessment of restructuring, said the move towards a single force was hampered by “difficult relationships between the Scottish Government, the SPA and Police Scotland”.

The public spending watchdog also cast doubt on whether Police Scotland will hit its £139 million savings target over the next two years.

Opposition politicians last night said the report showed the reorganisation was “botched” and “shambolic”, and threatened by “egos at senior level”.

The report said: “Planning for reform has been affected by poor relationships at senior levels among the four main stakeholders – the SPA board, the SPA senior management team, the police and the Scottish Government.

“There were a number of areas of tension, including different interpretations of the act, the lack of good baseline information on non-operational police activity, a lack of shared understanding and expectations over effective scrutiny of the police service, and the Scottish Government’s changing position over the way the SPA should operate.

“Considerable work is now required by the SPA board, the SPA senior management team, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to build mutual confidence, trust and respect.”

The report said 800 civilian staff would have to leave if 2013-14 savings targets are to be met, but so far just 439 have had voluntary redundancy or early retirement applications accepted.

Police are expected to cut £64m in 2013-14, but when Audit Scotland’s report was compiled in August, only £55.4m savings had been identified.

The report was seized upon by the SNP’s political opponents, who warned it painted a bleak picture of the future of Scottish policing.

Graeme Pearson MSP, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “This report is damning about the shambolic reorganisation which has taken place.

“There’s no clear financial planning, no set performance measurements and a lack of clarity about roles.”

He added: “The report makes clear that the cuts facing Police Scotland will mean that our thin blue line will get thinner. Police officers will be lost and the closure of police front counters is a precursor to police stations being sold off. Local policing will be put under threat.”

Margaret Mitchell MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman, said: “This is a damning report which reveals how egos at senior level threatened the whole process.

“That is a ludicrous state of affairs which should never have been allowed to happen.”

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Much was achieved over a short timeframe and front-line operations were maintained throughout.

“However the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland will find it challenging to deliver the savings expected by these reforms.”

In its response, Police Scotland committed only to meeting its saving targets for this year, not the next two. Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: “The process of change is only just beginning and there is much more to be done in partnership to deliver an efficient, modern policing service within the financial constraints.”

A spokesman for the SPA said: “Step one is ensuring we come in on budget or below this year. We are improving that position every month.”

‘Selective’ with information

THERE are concerns about the quality of information provided by the force to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), Audit Scotland said.

The SPA is supposed to hold Police Scotland to account, but the Scottish Government fears it is being fed “selective” information.

“The papers provided by the SPA senior management and Police Scotland for consideration by the SPA board have not always supported effective decision-making,” Audit Scotland said. The report added: “The Scottish Government is concerned that information in performance reports to the board may not be consistent with information published in its statistical bulletins.

“As a result, performance reports to the SPA board are now more selective.”

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: “We welcome the Auditor General’s focus on the work undertaken and, as with all other reports, we will take careful consideration of the recommendations made.”