Power-struggle police chiefs hire top lawyers at taxpayers’ expense

Chief Constable Steve House. Picture: TSPL
Chief Constable Steve House. Picture: TSPL
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THE two police chiefs embroiled in a dispute over the legislation governing Scotland’s single force have spent £6,300 of public money on legal advice.

Chief Constable Steve House paid out £3,900 while Vic Emery, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, was billed for £2,400 after becoming involved in a power struggle over areas of control in the new force which comes into operation in April.

Mr House revealed he was forced to turn to lawyers because of a “gobsmacking major problem with the legislation”, while appearing before the justice committee.

However, yesterday Alex Salmond ruled out new legislation, despite concerns that Mr House was being “stripped of powers”.

An agreement is expected to be signed today ending the dispute between Mr House and Mr Emery.

This latest move will create two separate HR and finance teams – one for the police and one for the authority – officially described as “business partnering”, but criticised by MSPs as “empire building”.

Both Mr House and Mr Emery told MSPs they had been confused by the Scottish Government’s legislation.

They also disagreed on where the authority’s control of civilian staff would end and Mr House’s would begin, particularly in relation to HR and finance.

The compromise is teams within both the police and authority, working side by side.

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats described that solution as a “jumble”.

The party’s leader, Willie Rennie, said: “The First Minister seemed unconcerned that the chief constable is to be stripped of significant powers.

“Scottish Police Authority plans will see finance and staffing functions taken out of the chief constable’s hands and placed into those of three power group directors, over whom the chief constable will have no control.

“How can the chief constable be held to account by the police authority when that authority will control many police services themselves? It will be a jumble and blame game. The First Minister seems happy to sleepwalk into this mess. It’s not good enough – we need fresh legislation to sort this out now.”

However, Mr Salmond denied there were problems with the legislation. “I don’t accept that the legislation passed by the overwhelming majority of this parliament is not fit for purpose,” he told First Minister’s Questions.

“I am quite certain that the Labour benches, if they felt that it wasn’t fit for purpose, would have realised that and not voted for it when it came to decision time. I don’t think it’s a question of the legislation, I think it’s a policy question.”

Meanwhile, Independent MSP John Finnie, a former policeman who accused the two chiefs of “empire building” has criticised the amount spent on legal advice. “I was astonished they thought it appropriate to rush to lawyers rather than seeking to clarify matters with civil servants,” he said.

“You cannot consult a senior Queen’s counsel and not incur considerable expense and the fact that those public servants spent £6,000 of public money on their personal uncertainties is unacceptable.”

A Scottish Government spokesman added: “We expect both bodies to ensure they are making best possible use of public money.”

The Scottish Police Authority will meet today, to finally draw a line under the dispute over HR and finance.