A senior officer received taxpayer-funded relocation expenses worth nearly £70,000 from the Scottish Police Authority – years after moving to take up her post.
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick was paid £67,000 by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) after transferring from the Metropolitan Police and also had a personal tax liability of £53,000 paid in 2016/17.
Details of the payments emerged as Auditor General Caroline Gardner identified “unacceptable” governance failings and poor use of public money at the SPA.
Her report was also critical of the appointment of three temporary senior staff at a cost of over £344,000 and said the process followed by former chief executive, John Foley, for appointing the SPA’s interim chief financial officer was inconsistent with the organisation’s own procurement procedures.
It emerged today that 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.
According to its annual accounts, the SPA paid recruitment agency Badenoch & Clark £106,192 for the employment of interim HR manager Louise Haggerty, who was in post just over three months between December 2016 and March this year.
Accountancy firm PwC was paid £199,500 for the services of James Gray, who was seconded as interim chief financial officer between June 2016 and March.
Publishing its annual accounts for 2016/17, the SPA said there had been a net overspend of £16.9 million against its £1.1 billion budget, a better than expected position due to payments received as part of a negotiated settlement following cancellation of the i6 police computer project.
Publishing her own report, Ms Gardner said she had identified “a number of instances of poor governance and poor use of public money”.
She said: “This is unacceptable. An immediate priority for the new chair and interim chief officer must be ensuring that the organisation operates more effectively and transparently so that such occurrences are not repeated in the future.”
She added: “While the progress in financial management of the SPA and Police Scotland is welcome, detailed strategies are needed to ensure the two organisations are able to achieve long-term financial sustainability and realise the vision outlined in Policing 2026.”
Former health minister Susan Deacon took up her position as the new chair of the SPA on Monday and will be expected to help improve the organisation’s battered image.
According to the annual report, Ms Fitzpatrick, who was appointed to Scotland’s national force in December 2012, received relocation expenses of £49,000 in 2016/17, with the SPA picking up the officer’s £53,000 personal tax liability associated with the “benefits in kind” she had received. She also received £18,000 in relocation expenses in 2014/15.
There is no suggestion Ms Fitzpatrick did anything wrong.
Under police guidelines, the senior officer should have received relocation payments within 18 months of her move.
The auditor general said uncertainties around the location of Police Scotland’s headquarters were “not a legitimate argument” for payments being made as recently as earlier this year.
The 2016/17 relocation expenses were coded incorrectly by the SPA, meaning they were mistakenly entered in the ledger as childcare vouchers.
In her report, the auditor general said: “The chief executive of the SPA and the chief financial officer of Police Scotland, who were familiar with the payments, made insufficient efforts to ensure that the remuneration report in the annual report and accounts were free from error and omission.”
Ms Gardner also said that interim HR and chief financial officer posts were found to not demonstrate value for money.
And she said that while improvements had been made, the long-term vision for Police Scotland, Policing 2026, would be “immensely challenging” to implement.
A spokesman for the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: "By any measure, the spending of over £300,000 on two temporary staff for a matter of months work can only be described as profligacy of the highest order.
"It is beyond belief that at a time the police service is under the greatest financial stress in living memory, public funds have been used like Monopoly money by people getting paid a fortune, paying a fortune to consultants so that they in turn can make fortunes.
"It seems the only people to suffer in these times of austerity are hard working police officers and the wider public."
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “This report could lead some to think the SPA has been behaving like some kind of dodgy offshore tax haven.
“People will be astonished that senior police officers are having their tax liabilities settled by the tax payer.
“And they’ll be incredulous that none of this was properly declared.
“One of the driving forces behind setting up a single force was to improve transparency and accountability. Instead, things seem murkier than ever.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman, Claire Baker, added: “This damning report is just the latest of a long list of critical reports into the governance and leadership of the SPA and Police Scotland.
“The government and Police Scotland may have avoided a vote of no confidence but make no mistake they still have serious questions to answer.
“No action is simply not good enough. Susan Deacon has a huge job ahead of her to regain the public’s confidence in the SPA. She needs the government to step up and take their part of the responsibility for the failings that went before.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 earlier, Ms Deacon was asked if she would provide greater scrutiny of Police Scotland.
She said: “I think you raise an incredibly important point and that is the SPA has to be stronger and more effective in what it does and that, I think, would create much of the improved scrutiny and debate that we now need and that’s what I’m determined to make improvement on in the months and years to come.
“I think trust and confidence in our police service is very high, I think we need to build more trust and confidence in the leadership of the police service and we need to get wider public understanding, and I think a more mature debate, both in the political world and in the press around the big challenges and changes that face our police service going forward and, without question, the SPA has a very important role to play in that.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “Audit Scotland has made it clear that DCC Fitzpatrick acted in accordance with the terms of her appointment and that she at all times complied fully with the requirements of the Scottish Police Authority.”