‘Systemic problems’ in emergency services must be addressed - MSPs

A number of improvements must be made in order to address "systemic problems" created following reform of Scotland's police and fire services, according to a committee of MSPs. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
A number of improvements must be made in order to address "systemic problems" created following reform of Scotland's police and fire services, according to a committee of MSPs. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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A number of improvements must be made in order to address “systemic problems” created following reform of Scotland’s police and fire services, according to a committee of MSPs.

Holyrood’s justice committee today publishes its conclusions following a review into the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 – one of the biggest transformations of a public service since devolution. In Scotland, the police and fire services had each consisted of eight regional organisations prior to the act being introduced.

When the act came into effect in 2013, these organisations were merged to instead create two national bodies – Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

In April last year, MSPs on the justice committee began an inquiry into the centralisation of the two services in order to examine how effective the change has been.

In its conclusions, the committee said that although reform had led to greater consistency of service across Scotland, as well as allowing for more equal access to specialist capabilities and support, a number of issues, particularly within Police Scotland, should be further addressed.

The committee’s report on policing indicated that poor financial management, unclear lines of responsibility and a failure to focus on the views of officers and staff in the early stages of reform lie at the root of many of the problems faced by Police Scotland.

Among the issues highlighted were forecast savings not being realised, IT problems hampering police effectiveness and a string of well-publicised personnel problems resulting in senior management “instability and concerns over a lack of clear leadership” in the initial years of the reform process.

A need for an exemption for police and fire services from the payment of VAT was also highlighted in the committee’s considerations.

The report set out a range of recommendations for improving Police Scotland, including; an overhaul of police complaints processes to create a more “equitable, clear and fair system”, a more proactive role by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in its oversight and scrutiny of new Police Scotland policies and to provide more robust financial projections.

The committee also suggested that the option of including the Scottish Parliament in the appointment process of the SPA chair should be explored, as well as stating that SPA and Police Scotland should demonstrate that recent improvements in leadership and governance would mean that previous “shortcomings caused by personality issues” could not reoccur.Justice committee convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said: “Our police and fire services do a vital job keeping people in Scotland safe. It is imperative that the structures and regulations underpinning these organisations work well.