Scottish police reform costs ‘underestimated’

26 Mar 19

The business case behind the creation of Scotland’s single police service was not robust, according to a parliamentary report, which has identified “systematic problems” facing the force.  

A post-legislative review of police and fire reform by the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, released yesterday, found that the creation of Police Scotland has provided greater consistency of service across the country, which had been of particular benefit to victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

However, the committee heard that the projected savings of £1.1bn over 15 years contained in the financial memorandum, which had accompanied reform legislation, were “unrealistic” and based on “over-simplistic reasoning”.  

Because the scale and complexity of police reform were not known, the projected costs had been underestimated, it was told.

“The outline business case on which the financial memorandum relied for its estimation of expected efficiency savings from the creation of a single police service was not suitably robust,” the committee concluded, saying a full business case should have been provided.

The committee also expressed concern over the police service’s three-year plan to achieve efficiency savings and to eliminate its deficit, noting it had excluded costs arising from Brexit and the integration into the organisation of the British Transport Police in Scotland.

It said that poor financial management, unclear lines of responsibility and a failure to focus on the views of officers and staff in the early stages of reform lay at the root of many of the problems faced by the service.

Financial projections for the future should be more robust, taking into account known challenges, it recommended.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue service was found to have had an easier transition, having achieved higher than anticipated levels of savings and demonstrated sound governance.

Margaret Mitchell, convener of the justice committee, said that public service reform had been one of the biggest challenges in post-devolution Scotland, and that some of the issues identified in the report could be traced back to the legislation under which the police and fire organisations had been created.

“These are not simply ‘teething problems’ of a new service bedding in, but systematic problems that must be addressed,” she said.

“The committee has identified a raft of necessary improvements to regulations, structures and practices.

“Members look forward to working closely with the Scottish Government and the organisations created by the Police and Fire Reform Act to implement changes.”

Humza Yousaf, cabinet secretary for justice, said the committee had rightly recognised significant achievements including improvements in how Police Scotland dealt with sexual offences.

“This has been delivered alongside the Scottish Government’s commitment to protect Police Scotland’s revenue budget during this parliament to deliver a total boost of £100 million by 2021 and the announcement of a 6.5% pay deal for officers,” he said.

However, the recommendations of the report would be considered in full by ministers, he said.

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