Police Scotland: Why 2020 will be the force’s biggest year yet – Tom Wood

Police Scotland will face major challenges in 2020 and there are serious problems that may make them even more difficult, writes Tom Wood.

This year is set to be the biggest yet for Police Scotland. Not only will the force have to cope with its usual demands, it will have to shoulder the ongoing growth of cyber crime, the never-ending investigation of historical sexual crime, and to cap it all Cop26, the United Nations climate change conference, which is set to be the biggest event held in the UK in living memory.

If the bickering between the UK and Scottish governments doesn’t get out of hand, up to 200 world leaders and 90,000 delegates will descend on Glasgow in November. It’s billed as a make-or-break event, no more long grass – tough decisions must be made. Difficult enough, then add to the mix the usual gaggle of celebrities, protestors acting like anarchists, and anarchists disguised as protestors – you get the picture.

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It will be a huge undertaking, an international event requiring specialist help from across the UK. Bigger than the London Olympics but with fewer athletes and more activists.

So how well placed is Police Scotland to face this challenge? Well, to get an idea, let’s look at three of the essential components – leadership, resources and governance.

On the first point, we can take some comfort. In its seventh year, police leadership has at last settled. We now have a good experienced command team headed by a Chief with the vision and the grip to take on the toughest challenges. So far, so optimistic – a green light.

Value for money

On resources, it’s far from perfect, there are problems especially in the Capital Budget for cars, buildings etc. The recent Scottish Government Budget has, however, applied some sticking plaster. So let’s give resources the benefit of the doubt – an amber light.

Lastly we come to accountability and scrutiny where the picture is bleaker. While some may see policing as simply crime prevention and investigation, it’s a lot more complicated. The police service is a huge publicly funded business requiring complex systems of challenge and support to make sure the job is done and we all get value for money. Which brings me to the Scottish Police Authority, the replacement for the old regional police boards. The SPA is tasked with promoting improvement, reviewing the service and holding the Chief Constable to account. It’s a function vital to the health of policing.

Of course, the SPA is not the only body tasked with police scrutiny. The courts, Parliament, HM Inspectorate and even an independent body (PIRC) all have a piece of the action. It’s a cluttered landscape and that’s part of the problem.

Root canal treatment

If the operational side of Police Scotland has had teething problems, the SPA seems to have been undergoing root canal treatment since inception in 2013. In fairness they started with a big disadvantage, as unlike their predecessors the SPA are unelected appointeesand have nowhere to hide from political interference. It hasn’t gone particularly well.

In an unprecedented move, HM inspectorate recently went on record to express concerns about the SPA’s performance – a red light. And without overplaying dental metaphors, authority chairs have been chewed up and spat out with alarming regularity. Now, once again, a new chair is being sought.

The SPA manages a big business and needs the requisite skills so let’s hope a chair with the appropriate experience is chosen and left to get on with it without micromanagement. Every component of Police Scotland must be running smoothly in this year of challenge. We need green lights.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable