The next chief constable of Police Scotland may not be in place until the end of the year, it has emerged.
Susan Deacon, chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said plans to improve transparency around the recruitment process meant the position would not be advertised until the summer.
The previous incumbent, Phil Gormley, resigned from the £214,000-a-year post earlier this month amid allegations of bullying.
At its public meeting in Stirling today, the SPA board will hear details of the search for Mr Gormley’s successor.
In a written update, Ms Deacon said she had asked the SPA’s chief officer to develop proposals to allow external input in the SPA-led recruitment process.
She said: “This is one of the most challenging and rewarding policing roles in the UK and so it will be important to have an open, competitive and transparent process and a rigorous and challenging assessment and interview process to find the best candidate to recommend for the position.
“Given the understandable level of public and parliamentary interest in the leadership of policing in Scotland, I believe it is important that there is increased transparency so detailed proposals will be brought to the March SPA board in public for approval.
“That will see the appointment process launched before the summer, with the aim of making a recommendation to ministers in the autumn, and having a new chief constable in place by the year end.”
Police Scotland is currently being led by Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, who cancelled plans to take early retirement when Mr Gormley went on leave last year.
Mr Gormley was the subject of five separate gross misconduct probes by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) when he stepped aside earlier this month. He denied all of the allegations against him.
His predecessor, Sir Stephen House, who left Police Scotland in 2015, was this month appointed to a senior role with the Metropolitan Police.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Daniel Johnson, said: “The public has been hit by wave after wave of stories of the dysfunction at the top of Police Scotland.
“In light of that, it is vital that the right person is appointed to the chief constable role. What Police Scotland needs now more than ever is a period of stability and leadership.
“In light of that need for stability, it is very disappointing to hear that we could be waiting several months until the process is even launched.”
He added: “This is too important a decision to rush, but at the same time, the public will expect an appointment well before Christmas, as has been suggested by the SPA.”
Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “Given the clouds that hung over the last chief constable for so long, people will be unimpressed that he may not be replaced until the end of the year. At a time when budgets are stretched, officers overworked and public confidence reducing, it’s essential a strong chief constable is in place as soon as possible.”