Chris Marshall: Police should welcome scrutiny

The publication of a Police Scotland staff survey in the coming weeks is expected to highlight further concerns about the running of the single service and the pressures faced by the force’s officers.

There has been much scrunity of Police Scotland in recent months. Picture: John Devlin

Senior officers have already indicated that they expect to receive a good deal of flak, while the Scottish Police Federation, a staff association, has said the report will make for “very uncomfortable reading”.

At the weekend, the Labour party aimed to increase political pressure on the force by demanding the publication of the survey.

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In defence of Police Scotland, however, the force has never made a secret of the survey. Journalists were offered interviews with deputy chief constable Neil Richardson when the exercise began earlier this year, and the force says it intends to make the collated results public.

Police officers should welcome the level of scrutiny their force is under, and know that it bears no reflection on the job they are doing in what appears to be very trying circumstances.

Indeed, the federation itself said on Monday that some parts of the police service are at “breaking point”.

However, the federation is wrong to say the force is currently enduring a “relentless media frenzy”, which will see the results of the survey used as “another stick with which to beat what is an excellent public service”.

It was inevitable that our new, monolithic police force would come under increased scrutiny following its formation in 2013. The number of controversies it has been embroiled in has only increased that scrutiny. While mistakes undoubtedly happened under the old regional forces, that is no reason for disregarding or seeking to diminish the importance of those which take place now.

From stop and search and the row over armed policing to the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill in a crash on the M9 last month, Police Scotland has never been far from a crisis.

The suggestion that the service is subject to some sort of media witchhunt is simply not accurate.

Nor is it accurate to say that other public bodies do not release internal staff surveys. Bodies including the Crown Office and education quango Education Scotland have been embarrassed by the results of similar questionnaires being made public in recent years.

There is much to commend Police Scotland on in its first two years, especially against a backdrop of cost-cutting that requires the force to save £1.1 billion by 2026.

But even its staunchest supporters would admit there are also lessons to be learned. Increased scrutiny plays a part in that.