Scottish police ‘could struggle to balance the books’

22 Nov 18

Policing in Scotland still faces “considerable challenges” in achieving financial sustainability despite progress in governance and budget monitoring, auditors have found.

The annual report on the finances and performance of the Scottish Police Authority - the body responsible for overseeing the national force - raised concerns over the authority’s ability to balance its books and meet long term strategic objectives.

It said effective budget monitoring was now in place, and welcomed improvements in leadership capacity and transparency.

However, it warned that delivery of the authority’s financial and strategic goals was being undermined by slow progress on essential corporate strategies dealing with workforce and police estates.

In particular, it highlighted the authority’s failure to agree a funding package for its “critical” data, digital and ICT strategy, which is expected to cost £298m over the next five years.

Auditors also found that expenditure on consultancy and external support had more than doubled in the last year due to a due to a lack of capacity within the authority and Police Scotland to deliver strategic projects.

“The ability to achieve financial balance in the long term depends on the successful delivery of a wide range of complex transformation projects,” it said.

“This requires the development of strong financial planning that must be underpinned and informed by other corporate strategies for workforce, estates and ICT.

“The lack of progress in developing these strategies will constrain the SPA’s ability to achieve long-term financial sustainability.”

Auditor General Caroline Gardner said progress had been made in key areas but there remained substantial work to do if the SPA was to achieve long-term financial sustainability and meet the challenges of modern policing.

“The scale, cost and complexity of the plans needed to deliver that transformational change should not be underestimated,” she said.

“It's vital that the SPA and Police Scotland develop comprehensive strategies for its future workforce, estates and ICT and clarify where the funding is coming from to make them a reality.” 

Susan Deacon, chair of the SPA, said the report demonstrated that “substantive improvements” had been made, but she did not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead.

“I am confident…that we are now putting in place the people and the practices needed to build a police service which is fit for purpose, fit for the future and which commands high levels of public confidence and trust,” she said.

“I am determined to ensure that we work tirelessly to drive continuous improvement and so ensure that the people of Scotland receive the very highest possible standards of policing within available resource and that the governance and oversight of this service is robust and effective.”

Police Scotland, which was formed in 2013, is the second largest police force in the UK after the Met, accounting for the vast majority of the SPA’s £1.2bn budget.

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