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Watchdog questions transparency of Scottish police

22 June 2017

A REVIEW by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) into the openness and transparency of the way that the Scottish Police Authority conducts its business has concluded that there is a need for the Authority better engagement with key stakeholders.

The inspection was brought forward at the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and followed from concerns raised by the Scottish Parliament Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) and the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.

Commenting on his report, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland said, “I have previously observed that effective scrutiny of policing in Scotland is essential in maintaining both legitimacy and public confidence. The scrutiny of policing must not only be effective, it must also be seen to be effective. While there have been positive improvements under the current Chair, the recent parliamentary scrutiny and media concerns over openness and transparency have weakened confidence in the SPA and detracted from its ability to perform its statutory function.”

The report acknowledges positive signs of improvement within the SPA Board operations over the last 18 months. The relationships between the SPA and Police Scotland have improved significantly and the shared development of the Policing 2026 Strategy has been a major milestone. Other developments including improved financial reporting, investment in change management, governance of police call handling and the implementation of Board and committee workplans, are all evidence of good progress. There is also a strong commitment from the Chair and all members to support policing and drive improvement.

Commenting on the previous decision by the SPA to hold its committee meetings in private and restrict the publication of papers to the same day as its meetings, Mr Penman said, “While I recognise and fully support the need for members to have private space and receive confidential briefings in support of their role, I firmly believe that the formal scrutiny of policing in Scotland should be in public.”

“There is a statutory presumption in favour of these meetings being held in public and I believe that the SPA has taken a narrow interpretation of the legislation in support of its decision to hold committee meetings in private.”

“I have previously recognised the legitimate interest of the media in reporting on SPA proceedings and consider that agenda and papers should be published in advance of meetings to promote transparency and inform stakeholders and those with an interest in the policing of Scotland.”

The report welcomes the recent decision by the SPA to revert to holding its committee meetings in public and publishing papers in advance, but concludes that there is a need to listen to the views of stakeholders to maintain public confidence, and on this occasion the SPA has failed to do so until pressed by parliamentary committees. The SPA must recognise the legitimate interests of parliament, local authorities, staff associations, the press and the wider public in the scrutiny of policing in Scotland.

The report also looked at the issues arising from the recent resignation of Board Member Moi Ali and acknowledges that she acted fully in accordance with On Board guidance. It highlights that there has been an acceptance by the Chair that he did not deal with Moi Ali appropriately and that he has since made a public apology.

HMICS identified weakness in the current executive structures and welcomes the recent announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that there will be a review of the way that the SPA Board can be better supported to deliver its statutory functions.

This report is intended to support improvement and makes 11 recommendations. HMICS will request an action plan from SPA outlining how it intends to address these with agreed timescales.