In its annual report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said the formation of Police Scotland had been a success so far, but it warned that challenges lie ahead.
The country’s eight regional police forces were merged to form Police Scotland in 2013 in a bid to save £1.1 billion by 2026.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said the reform process had been “effective to date”, with “minimal impact” on the service provided to the public.
But he said there were challenges remaining in the medium and long-term sustainability of the service. While savings targets have been achieved for 2013/14, there are continuing financial challenges, Mr Penman said.
Last month, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House warned the path ahead for the service was “not smooth” as he confirmed plans to cut support staff next year.
About 2,000 civilian staff have been cut through voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes since 2009.
The Scottish Police Federation, a staff association, has warned the force will continue to be “stretched” in the coming year, particularly when policing major public events.
Police Scotland will spend more than 90 per cent of its £1 billion annual budget on staff costs in 2014/15.
Mr Penman said he had found evidence of more equal access to specialist resources across the country since the formation of the single force.
He also praised Police Scotland for its handling of major events, notably the Clutha helicopter tragedy.
He said: “The creation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority has been effective so far and policing is operationally stronger and better placed to deal with major events than the legacy police forces it replaced.
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“However, the reform process has only begun and a major programme of change – with associated challenges – remains in terms of the medium to long term sustainability.
“Some of the change required will take time to achieve, and only once implemented will it be possible to fully assess whether the intended benefits of reform have been fully realised.”
The inspectorate’s report said “effective localism and genuine engagement” with communities would be an important part of the force’s success in the future.
And it said there was greater scope for local authorities to “assert themselves” and raise concerns about police decisions.
Earlier this year HMICS said the speed of transition had had a negative impact on the morale of officers and staff.
A review of the service in Fife found many of those who had previously been part of Fife Constabulary felt the force’s local identity and affinity with communities had been undermined by the creation of the national force.
Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: “I welcome the publication of the HMICS annual report and it’s pleasing to note that as a result of reform, policing has been assessed as operationally stronger and more capable of dealing with major incidents than before. The scale and structure of Police Scotland is providing real value in communities across Scotland. The HMICS report clearly indicates that is something we can build further on and that we are heading in the right direction.
“The task of creating a single police service did not stop on 1 April 2013 and the job is not yet complete. Further change is required to build a service which is operationally and financially sustainable over the long-term which can deliver excellent local policing supported by a full range of specialist services where and when required.
”No one is under any allusion as to the scale of the challenge which lies ahead over the coming years. Our focus absolutely remains on keeping people safe and doing so with a balanced budget which creates a strong platform for the future policing in Scotland.”
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