Today’s Audit Scotland report finds that the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland face continuing challenges in delivering the savings required. In particular, their limited flexibility in managing police officer and staff numbers. That’s polite auditor criticism of the political police officer target imposed on Police Scotland.
The report also confirms some key UNISON criticisms of the process leading up to the centralisation of Scotland’s police forces. In particular, that the savings estimates were based on an Outline Business Case that has never been updated or moved on to a Full Business Case.
“Both KPMG and PwC highlighted significant concerns about financial management in addition to the issues identified by the gateway reviews. A number of recommendations from these reviews were not fully implemented, including the gateway review recommendation to update and use the business case to test the validity and realism of programme assumptions.”
In addition, the report highlights the confusion over the roles of the SPA and Police Scotland - a confusion that was played out in public over many months. UNISON Scotland drew attention to the potential for conflict, given the lack of clarity, while the Bill progressed through Parliament.
The report says:
“There were a number of areas of tension, including:
· different interpretations of the Act, the Scottish Government’s intention behind the Act, and what this meant for the role of the SPA in terms of ‘maintaining’ the police service
· the lack of good baseline information on non-operational police activity; in particular, the lack of comprehensive financial information to identify how savings outlined in the OBC would be achieved
· a lack of shared understanding and expectations over what effective scrutiny of the police service looked like in practice
· the Scottish Government’s changing position over the way the SPA should operate.”
The report goes on to express concern that a number of governance issues still need to be progressed.
This report articulates what everyone close to the process knows. This was a badly planned and rushed centralisation of a vital public service, with flawed legislation and a confused governance structure. The estimated savings were optimistic and more importantly, not worked up in sufficient detail. Add to all that political targets on police officer numbers that makes a nonsense of the statutory duty of Best Value.
Huge challenges remain, but even at this stage it would help if the Scottish Government stopped its political interference and allowed Police Scotland to adopt a balanced workforce.