Leaders: Police Scotland must get over annus horribilis

2015 has been a year to forget for Police Scotland. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
2015 has been a year to forget for Police Scotland. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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UNIFIED force has faced a successions of controversies that show little sign of easing and new chief constable will have to prove his worth

IT’s fair to say 2015 has been a year to forget for Police Scotland. From the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in May to the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill in a car crash on the M9 that went undiscovered for three days in July, the national force has never been far from controversy.

Add to that the continued fallout over armed policing, stop and search and the recent finding that the force broke data guidelines by attempting to unmask a journalist’s source, then it’s clear this has been an annus horribilis for the service.

But just when Police Scotland looked set to limp to the end of the year without any further damage, two hard-hitting reports released yesterday raised serious concerns about its long-term financial stability of Scottish policing.

In his annual report, Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, noted the “absence” of a long-term vision of policing and a clear financial strategy.

Mr Penman said the continued Scottish Government commitment to delivering 1,000 extra police officers was being undermined by cuts to civilian police staff.

No sooner had Mr Penman’s report been delivered, than a damning report from Audit Scotland highlighted “incomplete records and poor financial management” at the Scottish Police Authority, the watchdog charged with holding Police Scotland to account.

Audit Scotland said the slow progress made by the SPA towards creating a long-term financial strategy had become “critical”. The auditor said the SPA and Police Scotland could face a potential funding gap of around £85 million by 2018-19.

If 2015 was Police Scotland’s year of controversies, then 2016 must be the year the force – and its watchdog – gets its act together.

It will have a new chief constable in the former deputy director of the National Crime Agency, Phil Gormley, who will have to earn every penny of his £212,000 salary if he is to turn things around.

There have been undoubted successes since Police Scotland’s creation in April 2013, most notably in tackling offences such as domestic abuse and sexual crime.

The force has had to deliver a national service while seeking to make cumulative savings of £1.1 billion by 2026.

It has also faced a higher level of public scrutiny than the eight forces it succeeded.

But there are real signs the cracks are beginning to show, not least on the issue of staff morale and creaking finances – the force expects to “overspend” by at least £25m this year.

Regardless of what some senior officers say, Police Scotland would not exist had there not been a financial imperative to create it.

The current mess that Police Scotland finds itself in is one of the Scottish Government’s making.

Restoring faith in the national force – as well as helping balance the books – should be a priority for ministers in 2016.

More power to regulator over fines

We’ve all been there – a nasty great bill that comes when you least expect it.

In a move which will no doubt warm the cockles of those struggling to keep the heat on over Christmas, energy giant npower was yesterday fined £26 million over failures in its billing and handling of complaints.

Regulator Ofgem said the money would be split between some of the worst affected customers and charities, helping bring some festive cheer from what was no doubt misery for the 500,000 people affected.

Ofgem said many of npower’s problems arose after the firm introduced a new IT system in 2011.

Between September 2013 and December 2014, the company issued more than 500,000 late bills.

Some customers also received inaccurate bills with little or no detail on how these were calculated, the regulator said.

During the same period, more than two million customer complaints were made to the energy giant, mainly about late or inaccurate bills.

Complaints about energy companies aren’t new.

Indeed, Scottish Power came bottom of a ranking of the UK’s 100 biggest brands by customer service earlier this year, narrowly under-performing, yes, npower, which came 99th.

That’s why it’s all the more welcome to see the regulator baring its teeth.

The £26m fine is the largest-ever for a domestic energy supplier.

It should hopefully provided a salutary lesson to other firms that customer service cannot and should not be ignored.