Leaders: Fresh perspective needed for Police Scotland

NEW CHIEF constable has an uphill task in getting to grips with the force’s troubles, but is untainted by the previous regime

Phil Gormley was a surpise appointment as new chief constable of Police Scotland. Picture: PA
Phil Gormley was a surpise appointment as new chief constable of Police Scotland. Picture: PA

Two and a half years after the formation of Police Scotland, a fresh chapter has finally opened for the national force with the unveiling of it new chief constable.

It is fair to say Phil Gormley, the replacement for Sir Stephen House, is a surprise appointment for the £212,280-a-year post.

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He has more than 30 years’ experience in UK policing and law enforcement, including a three-year spell as the National Crime Agency’s deputy director. But with no previous policing experience in Scotland, the arrival of the 53-year-old may disappointment many of those who understand the full scale of the challenge that awaits him in the job.

Police Scotland, which was formed as part of a cost-cutting drive to replace the former eight regional constabularies, has not had its problems to seek since Sir Stephen’s reign began.

Mr Gormley has been appointed in the face of competition from two deputy chief constables, Iain Livingstone and Neil Richardson, and after calls for the new figurehead to be someone with a grasp of the many difficult issues he will have to tackle.

The new boss will be acutely aware of a string of controversies over armed police on the streets, the misuse of stop and search and officers’ failure to respond to a fatal crash on the M9.

He has been appointed just two months after a staff survey found that a third of the Police Scotland workforce wanted to leave within the next three years, with just a quarter of officers feeling they have enough resources to do their job properly. Some teething troubles were clearly to be expected, but not even the harshest critics of amalgamation could have predicted the troubles to befall the new force. It has appeared to lurch from one controversy to another, with its problems mounting up dramatically this year, culminating in the decision by Sir Stephen to step down, nine months earlier than anticipated.

With allegations over the possible unlawful spying on journalists still swirling around, there is a huge job to be done in rebuilding morale.

An insight into the size of the task has been offered by the Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, who expressed concerned at the appointment of someone “who can only have a passing knowledge of Scotland, its police service and community expectations”.

Brian Docherty, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation which represents rank-and-file officers, said he was delighted at Mr Gormley’s willingness to listen and learn. But he also said his “entire career has been forged in England” and admitted past concerns that policing in Scotland had had its “unique identity diminished” by a lack of understanding of Scottish challenges. But why shouldn’t someone who has built up an excellent track record south of the Border be the right person for the job?

Casting a fresh eye on Police Scotland would offer a new perspective. That is at least as legitimate an argument as the one that states that an officer with a deep understanding of where the force has gone wrong would have been a shrewd appointment.

An individual unencumbered with the baggage of past mistakes can drive through improvements in a way someone who has been compromised by the errors of the past might not be able to.

SNP right to reject school hours cuts

The storm clouds have been gathering for some time on the horizon for Scotland’s local authorities. It has long been obvious that few things will remain sacrosanct in the face of councils having to make tens of millions of pounds worth of savings over the next few years.

Local government body Cosla has warned that councils face having to make up to £500 million worth of cuts and savings in the next year alone. It is against this backdrop that the Scottish Government has headed off any proposals to cut the length of the primary school week.

Education secretary Angela Constance’s move to change the law to ensure children spend at least 25 hours a week in class came after local authorities put the idea forward to cut costs.

Ms Constance said the amendment to the Education Bill before the Scottish Parliament ensures “a teacher time guarantee that every one of our children and young people should expect.”

However the move has upset Cosla which says it has been introduced after “zero consultation” with local authorities and is a “knee-jerk response” to the issue.

There is no doubt about the seriousness of the task facing local councils as they try to balance their books over the next few years. But most parents would surely see the education of their children as a priority that should be ring-fenced.

And it is hard to argue with Ms Constance’s point that any decisions on what happens in the nation’s schools should be based on the potential educational benefit, rather than on how much money can be saved. The Scottish Government is currently being held to account on its record in education, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on her record in this area when she acknowledged the problems that exist. Cutting the number of hours that children are in school would only make the situation worse.