Police chief hits back over ‘personality clashes’

Sir Stephen House accused Audit Scotland of being naive. Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Stephen House accused Audit Scotland of being naive. Picture: Robert Perry
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chief Constable Sir Stephen House has launched a robust defence of police reform and hit back at Audit Scotland, which said the creation of the single force had been hit by disputes between key officials and groups.

In a speech to an International Policing Conference in Edinburgh, he said he felt compelled to respond to allegations that personality clashes between him, the Scottish Government and the police authority had hampered the process.

It is understood senior officers are concerned about the impact the report has had on police morale and public perceptions.

Sir Stephen told the conference: “Many aspects of it are very fair but, if I may say, I think it’s a somewhat naive approach.”

He went on: “I’m paid a huge amount of money, I’ve been around a long time and I have a hard shell. My officers don’t always have that. I would ask everyone in public life, when they say something, to make sure it’s factually accurate.”

He criticised claims of a lack of performance measurement, particularly as a common concern raised by officers has been how target-led the new force has been.

The Audit Scotland report said: “The gaps in baseline data will also make it difficult to track how performance is changing following the restructure to a single police service and whether the intended benefits of reform are being achieved.”

Sir Stephen asked the audience, many of whom were serving police officers: “Hands up any of my officers who say there are no performance measures.”

Later, he said he felt police had not been given enough credit for over huge amount of change they have faced in the past 12 months. “I think it could have been more fulsome in its praise of the officers and staff,” he said of the report.

He also criticised the focus on personality clashes involving the chief constable, Scottish Police Authority chairman Vic Emery and the Scottish Government, earlier on in the process.

“I think it could have acknowledged it was a moment in time, and relations with the police authority are much more constructive now,” he said. “This was a year of new legislation, of new structures. Is it a surprise there were tensions? Of course there were. But we are there now and doing a good job.”

Both the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (Asps) were infuriated by Audit Scotland’s report.

Calum Steele, general secretary of the SPF, said: “The report was anything but balanced.”

He also attacked the political criticism that followed the report. “It would be helpful if, rather than taking a grandstanding position on what should not be done, they said what should be done,” Mr Steele said.

David O’Connor, president of the Asps, said reform had become a “political football”, adding: “Performance levels have been maintained and public confidence in policing is very high.”

The Audit Scotland report warned police would struggle to make savings targets of £139 million over the next two years and £1.1 billion by 2026.

Yesterday, the public services watchdog stood by its report. A spokesman said: “Our report reviews the process until now and makes a number of recommendations aimed at helping the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority achieve the objectives of the reforms.”