Flaws in police scrutiny must be addressed, say Scottish watchdogs

20 Nov 12
Scrutiny of Scottish police has often been weak and needs to be beefed up when the single national force begins work next April, inspectors said today.
By Richard Johnstone | 20 November 2012

Scrutiny of Scottish police has often been weak and needs to be beefed up when the single national force begins work next April, inspectors said today.

A report by the Accounts Commission and the Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland found flaws in the governance of the eight existing regional forces by police boards.

The boards, made up of councillors, govern the work of the police alongside chief constables and the Scottish Government. Two boards – for Dumfries and Galloway and Fife forces – match council boundaries, while six others are held jointly across authorities. Each is responsible for setting budgets and holding the chief constable to account.

The watchdogs examined how effective these arrangements were at ensuring value for the £942m spent on policing in Scotland. They found that councillors often passively approved spending plans, rather than challenged them. Elected members had received insufficient training to carry out proper scrutiny, the watchdogs added.

Under the arrangements for a national service, set out in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, the boards will be replaced by a single Scottish Police Authority accountable to Scottish ministers.

However, the Act also places an obligation on local police commanders in each local authority area to produce a policing plan, which has to be approved by councillors.

Auditors urged ministers to ensure the faults in the current system are not replicated at this level. Examples of bad practice include sub-committees being chaired by a councillor from the same political party as the board convener, and meetings being held in private.

Publishing the Best Value report, Accounts Commission chair John Baillie said: ‘Looking forward to the new policing structure, it is clear that important lessons can be learned from what we have at present. It is critical that the respective roles of the Scottish Police Authority, the Police Service of Scotland, local authorities and their partners are clearly understood and that policing services are managed in accordance with well-established principles of good governance and accountability.’

Although the report found ‘notable differences’ in the cost of policing across Scotland’s eight forces, the average costs were below those in the rest of the UK. The forces also had sound systems for budget control, and during 2011/12 collectively reported savings of £33.3m.

Inspector of constabulary for Scotland Andrew Laing added: ‘The police service in Scotland is undergoing the most significant organisational change in its history. I am confident that it will retain its considerable strengths, such as community policing, but close attention is now needed to ensure effective accountability, scrutiny and inspection are maintained.’


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