In a Section 22 report for the Scottish Parliament on the Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority intended to hold the national force to account,
Gardner said there were substantial issues found during the annual audit of the SPA.
In 2015/16, the SPA managed total spending of £1.1bn, which it allocates to Police Scotland. However, auditors said that the SPA needs to be more open about how it allocates funding to Police Scotland and what this is expected to achieve.
This is the third consecutive year concerns have been raised since the national policing bodies replaced Scotland’s eight regional forces in April 2013.
The accounts are unqualified, but Gardner said she had issued a modified conclusion for the 2015-16 SPA accounts, similar to the conclusion in 2014-15. This is due to aspects of property, plant and equipment accounting records. There was insufficient consideration given to the identification of surplus assets, and numerous errors were identified in the valuation of assets held for sale and investment properties as a result of revaluing under the incorrect asset category.
The body prepared an initial long-term financial strategy in March 2016, following the auditor general's recommendation that it do so in 2013. Gardner said this must be continually updated to reflect new information, given the scale of the financial challenge facing the SPA and Police Scotland. Audit Scotland estimates that they could face a cumulative funding gap of almost £190m by 2020/21.
“The Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland are among the largest and most important public bodies in the country. It's therefore unacceptable that I've had to report to the Parliament on weak financial leadership and management in all three years of their existence,” Gardner stated.
"Substantial improvement is required now to deliver the strong financial leadership, long-term planning and robust scrutiny that will be needed if policing in Scotland is to withstand the major challenges ahead.”
A further Audit Scotland report on the SPA and Police Scotland will be produced in 2017.
Responding to today’s report, SPA chief executive John Foley said 2015/16 was a challenging year, but added the scale of savings achieved are significant.
“There are issues raised by Audit Scotland regarding capabilities and accounting for fixed assets during the year which I am personally working with Police Scotland’s executive to ensure are urgently addressed,” he stated. “In addition to the financial management changes already underway, we will invest in ensuring the finance function has the appropriate capabilities required.”
Police Scotland’s deputy chief officer David Page said the force was committed to ensuring its financial management of the police budget was of the highest standard.
“We will continue to work with the Authority to ensure the appropriate resources are in place to improve capacity and capability to address the issues raised by Audit Scotland in their report.”