The board of the beleaguered Scottish Police Authority has come under renewed pressure after a committee of MSPs expressed a lack of confidence in some of its members.
Holyrood’s audit committee yesterday wrote to SPA chair Susan Deacon to highlight what it called “strongly held concerns” about those who have been in post “throughout a period of continual under-performance”.
The SPA, which was set up to manage the £1.1 billion police budget and hold the chief constable to account, has endured months of criticism over its performance, leading to the departure of its former chair, Andrew Flanagan, and chief executive John Foley last year.
It is understood the latest criticism is intended for deputy chair Nicola Marchant and board member David Hume, both of whom appeared before MSPs last month.
The SPA was accused of “unacceptable” governance failings and poor use of public money by Audit Scotland in December after it emerged Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick was paid £67,000 in relocation expenses after transferring from the Metropolitan Police and also had a personal tax liability of £53,000 paid in 2016-17.
Mr Foley, who left the SPA in November, received an early retirement payment of £43,470 and a further payment of £56,666 in lieu of notice.
In her letter to Ms Deacon, audit committee convener Jenny Marra MSP said: “The poor performance of the former chair and chief executive of the SPA has been well discussed in our committee and beyond, and you have already explained how you intend to improve the SPA and its decision-making processes.
“However, we are obliged to highlight our strongly held concerns about the performance of those board members who have been in post throughout a period of continual under-performance and who did not challenge the previous incumbents as effectively as they should have done. Quite simply, we do not have confidence in their ability to perform their role adequately and ask you to reflect on our concerns when you carry out performance appraisals of board members.”
In a separate letter to Dr Marchant, the committee asked whether the payments made to Mr Foley could have been avoided and if the board or any of the SPA’s committees had considered dismissing the former chief executive before he took early retirement.
Ms Marra said the record keeping in relation to the board’s decisions about Mr Foley had been “appalling and unacceptable” and she asked whether any of the money paid to Deputy Chief Constable Fitzpatrick could be reclaimed. Questions were also asked about why the SPA spent more than £10,000 on legal advice following a request for information from former board member Moi Ali.
Mr Flanagan stepped aside as SPA chair last year after being heavily criticised over the board’s decision – later reverse – to hold most of its meetings in private.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “As an organisation, the SPA really needs to pull its finger out.
“Its reputation has taken a beating in recent months, and the appearances referred to here have done nothing to improve that.
“Public confidence in the management of policing is poor, and the SPA doesn’t seem to be serious about addressing that.
“If it doesn’t act quickly, people will just become even more fed up with it.”
A spokesman for the SPA said: “The SPA can confirm that correspondence from the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee has been received. A response will be sent to the committee in due course.”