THE heads of Scotland’s new national police force have been accused of “empire building” at taxpayers’ expense after extra layers of bureaucracy were introduced to resolve a power struggle.
MSPs yesterday lost patience over the “personality clash” between Police Scotland’s new chief constable, Steve House, and Vic Emery, the chairman of its scrutiny body, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
The new force is scheduled to assume responsibility for policing in Scotland in less than three months, but the two men remain at loggerheads over who controls its £1.4 billion budget and the administrative functions of support staff. Mr House has even called for a change in legislation to resolve the problem.
But a potential solution emerged yesterday, with plans to effectively create separate finance and human resources (HR) departments. Police Scotland would have its own teams under the control of Mr House, with additional staff for these functions for the civilian arm under the auspices of the SPA.
Labour’s Graeme Pearson, a former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, voiced concern at Holyrood’s justice committee yesterday, saying that the dispute between the two senior figures was “being conducted at public expense, with some degree of public concern”.
Mr Pearson said the proposals set out by the police authority yesterday showed that “a shadow group is being assembled of senior people within the police service for HR and finance”.
He added: “This was supposed to be about reducing management costs in order to protect frontline services. It seems to me that the board has enough to do bringing the police service to account and showing good governance, instead of trying to manage and drive forward part of the service.”
John Finnie, an independent MSP and former police officer, said: “Two empires have been built and it may be that trains are running that should be stopped at this early stage.”
Committee convener Christine Grahame has now written to Mr Emery setting out the MSPs’ concerns about the proposals.
She said the latest proposals “would appear to suggest that human resources and finance staff are to be employed by both the SPA and Police Scotland” and the potential duplication and costs arising from this was a worry for the committee.
She added: “We would urge that additional staff are not engaged until final agreement over responsibilities is reached.”
Ms Grahame insisted that the new national Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) had been created through similar legislation, but without the same kind of tensions.
Responsibilities for finance and human resources had been dealt with through a special “Scheme of Delegation” within SFRS, she said, adding: “We are confused as to why similar arrangements cannot be put in place to resolve the issues of dispute in relation to policing and would therefore welcome an explanation of this.”
The national police service is being introduced through the merger of the eight regional forces, including Strathclyde, Grampian and Lothian, in an effort to cut costs and create a more efficient organisation.
Critics feared it could place too much control in the hands of justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill over who runs the force, but the current “turf war” between the police and civilian arms of the service had not been anticipated.
The plans unveiled yesterday will see the SPA take the “strategic lead” for HR and finance, an issue which has been at the heart of the tensions in recent months. All staff in these areas will be SPA employees, but there will also be HR and finance staff “embedded within Police Scotland”. These will include directors of HR and finance who will “report directly to the chief constable”.
The plans add: “The HR director of Police Scotland will be responsible for the provision of effective HR services to the chief constable and his senior management team.”
The same applies in finance.
Mr Emery last night insisted that talks have been ongoing with Mr House in an effort to create “smart, modern ways” to provide a responsive service to Police Scotland.
“Those proposed structures are free from duplication or overlap,” he said.
“It is the authority who will be held to account for achieving best value for the police budget, so it is puzzling why anyone would suggest that it is in the authority’s interests to create roles and expense that are unnecessary.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said last night: “The paper published by the SPA reflects the discussions held before Christmas and represents progress towards reaching a working agreement that allows us to focus on the delivery of a new national policing service for April.
“Our focus remains on delivering an effective, efficient policing service for Scotland and ensuring we build on the work of existing forces in keeping people safe.”
Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie said the failure to resolve the issue had been a matter of “deep public concern”.
“With less than three months to go before the single police force becomes a reality, this matter really has to be put to bed.”
How the two leaders compare
Position: Chairman of the Scottish Police Authority
Salary: £450 per day
Previous posts: Mr Emery comes from a shipbuilding background, including being managing director of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions, which manage the shipyards on the Clyde. His public sector roles include chairman of the Scottish Police Services Authority, where he sat on the same board as Mr House, and chairman of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, which managed the tram project.
He will be in charge of holding Mr House and police performance to account.
Audit Scotland has criticised the level of scrutiny some police boards have given forces and the Scottish Government will want to see an improvement.
Position: Chief constable of Scotland
Salary: £208,000 a year
Previous posts: A police officer since 1981, he has worked in several forces, most notably as chief constable of Strathclyde, and deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Met.
Responsibilities: Will take over responsibility of Police Scotland, the UK’s second largest force, in April.
Mr House, who is married with three children, will be in charge of directing 17,454 police officers, as well as civilian staff, and ensuring Scotland enjoys a safe Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Police Scotland has also been tasked with saving £1.7 billion over
15 years, while at the same time he must try to maintain Scotland’s 37-year low in recorded crime.