Tavish Scott: Police force reforms are a shambolic mess

Armed police officers: ' An unfortunate necessity and a sensible precaution'
Armed police officers: ' An unfortunate necessity and a sensible precaution'
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This week the omnishambles that is Scottish police reform was laid bare. The Scottish Government is abolishing Scotland’s eight existing police forces and creating a national force responsible to ministers.

A oversight body grandly named the Scottish Police Authority also has a role.

Scotland has falling crime rates. The fear of crime is also declining. Confidence and attitudes to police in local communities remain high. Yet this is being put at risk by a grotesque centralisation. The inherent contradictions in these plans are now apparent. So too is the failure of the Scottish Parliament to do its job in scrutinising the legislation that allowed this mess to happen.

A parliamentary committee exposed a turf war now raging between national police Chief Constable Stephen House, salary £208,100 per annum and Police Authority chairman Vic Emery, salary £450 a day. They both believe that human resources, finance and police support workers belong to them. House and Emery are to have their own press and legal departments. So much for cutting back on duplication and waste.

The response of the Scottish Government to this shambles? Nothing to do with us – it is for the Chief Constable and the authority chairman to sort this out. The badly drafted and imprecise legislation that created this mess – a “gobsmacking” major problem according to House is just fine according to government.

The Chief Constable wants complete operational independence over all functions of policing in Scotland. The empire from Saxavord to the Solway is all his. But chairman Emery takes a different view. What is certain is that the civil service, and therefore ministers, are demanding cost savings. They will want the Police Authority in charge of finance for that reason.

Stephen House has to convince his force he is standing up both for independence and the necessary money. If he does not have financial control he is not in operational control. His budget will be cut.

The justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, wants £1.7 billion of savings over 15 years. He has promised that will happen. In 2028 MacAskill will not be Justice Secretary. Stephen House will not be Chief Constable and Vic Emery will not chair the Police Authority. They will not be around to explain to Audit Scotland what complete fantasy this figure reflects. But to justify the changes, savings must be made. What that means in practice is unknown.

What doesn’t appear to be subject to any cuts is police salaries at the top. This week four deputy chiefs were appointed on an annual salary of £169,000. That is just less than the former Strathclyde chief constable, House, used to earn. These four, who are either from the Met in London or the central belt, will earn more than existing chief constables. Cuts to front line policing certainly do not appear to affect the senior ranks or the Scottish Police Authority. This is a shambles that a future government will have to sort.

• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland