- The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1629, in the name of Bill Aitken, on behalf of the Justice Committee, on its report on its inquiry into the effective use of police resources.
- Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con):
It gives me great pleasure to open the debate on behalf of the Justice Committee. I put on record my appreciation for the contribution that all members of the committee made to our inquiry into the effective use of police resources. As a first topic for scrutiny this session, the inquiry was a challenging piece of work for the committee to undertake, particularly as it was carried out in conjunction with scrutiny of the Government's spending review and draft budget.
The committee process in the Scottish Parliament has, over the years, attracted considerable praise. Sometimes, that praise has not been particularly deserved, but in the course of this inquiry any detached observer would have been impressed by the input of my colleagues. Every member came appropriately researched and prepared and made extremely informed contributions at every juncture. The committee comprises three new members—Nigel Don, John Wilson and Stuart McMillan—who quickly adapted to their new brief. Their contributions, added to those of—not exactly the old hands, but the more experienced members—Cathie Craigie, Paul Martin, Bill Butler and Margaret Smith, enabled our inquiry to be carried out in an exceptionally professional manner.
The committee decided in the summer of last year that it would carry out the inquiry. We wished the witnesses to come from as wide a range as possible and we had senior police officers representing the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, police board conveners, and a most valuable contribution from the Scottish Police Federation. We also had witnesses from the academic world and from among those who had been involved in drawing up the Howat report.
The evidence that the witnesses provided—both oral and written—was of an exceptionally high quality and I thank all the witnesses who gave of their time and effort so willingly to help us. We would not have been able to produce such a thorough report without their assistance. As a final opening remark, I am pleased to say that the report was agreed unanimously by the committee, which is a measure of the consensual manner in which it approached the inquiry. We soon realised that, over the years, there has been a considerable change in the duties of police officers and in the public attitude to policing. Many members of the public have a nostalgic yearning for the "Dixon of Dock Green" type of police figure—the paternalistic, reassuring constable seen speaking to people in the streets and testing locked doors.
Although that provides great public reassurance, it is totally unrealistic to expect the police officers of the 21st century to provide that type of service. There must be a recognition that the nature of policing has, of necessity, changed as a result of some of the less attractive aspects of modern life. When the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 was enacted, terrorism was practically unheard of. There was no sex offenders legislation and there was generally much less legislation to be administered and policed. Against that background, the committee decided to focus primarily on the management and deployment of police officers in Scotland, including proposals from the Scottish Government for an increase of 1,000 officers.
The inquiry was timely, given the Government's plan to recruit only 500 of those additional police officers using new money and to release a further 500 for front-line duties through a combination of retention and redeployment initiatives. The committee wanted to examine whether or not that proposition was feasible. We were clear from the outset that the plans should be reviewed by the Justice Committee in the context of the new Administration's first budget.
The committee received a considerable weight of evidence indicating that, at current levels, police resources were inadequate to allow forces effectively to meet all their present commitments. Although we recognised that it is extremely challenging to determine the optimum level of resources, we supported calls for more funding to be found for extra police officers. The committee naturally welcomed the promise of funding to recruit 500 additional officers during the spending review period, but we quickly reached the conclusion that the Government's plan to retain or redeploy a further 500 officers would be very challenging to deliver. As part of our budget report, therefore, we recommended to the Finance Committee that more money should be allocated for policing—enough to raise new recruitment to a level of 1,000 by 2011. All parties were extremely pleased when the Government recognised the strength of our argument and amended the budget accordingly.
The inquiry went much wider than the issue of police numbers alone. The committee also considered whether the roles and responsibilities that are currently assigned to the police are appropriate, how effectively community policing is being delivered across Scotland and whether arrangements for police governance and accountability are fit for purpose. I will tackle each of those issues in turn.
It is now more than 40 years since the core role and responsibilities of the police were defined in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. ACPOS told us that
"there has been no fundamental review of policing carried out since ‘The Royal Commission on the Police' in 1962 and no review into core roles and responsibilities to define modern-day policing requirements."
Many witnesses within and beyond the police service were firmly of the view that a comprehensive review was now long overdue. The committee supported that view and recommended that within the lifetime of this session of Parliament, the Scottish Government should initiate an independent review of the role and responsibilities of the police in Scotland, which would be informed by the committee's report. The Government has indicated in its written response that it is considering that recommendation. I would welcome a positive statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on that point during the debate.
The committee was extremely concerned about the lack of a clear, commonly agreed definition of community policing between Scottish police forces and the Scottish Government. The committee was clear that in trying to measure, monitor and improve the police service in Scotland, it is extremely important that a clear definition of community policing is established as a priority. The public have a right to know what level of service they can expect from the police.
The committee was also concerned that, given the lack of a commonly agreed definition, we were unable to obtain a baseline figure for the number of community police officers. We called for such a figure to be established. I am therefore pleased to see from the Government's written response that work is under way to address that issue, although I note that a timescale for completion is not provided. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will mention that in the debate.
The committee is not content to let the issue rest and has recently agreed a remit for a second phase inquiry, which will focus on community policing. We will seek to establish a clear definition of community policing and to identify our own baseline figures for community police officers—officers on the street—in order to aid future monitoring.
In the first of a short series of fact-finding visits, members of the committee were in Dundee yesterday to see at first hand the community policing initiatives that are being implemented jointly by Tayside Police and Dundee City Council. That was an interesting and helpful visit. I thank Dundee City Council and the chief constable of Tayside Police for the facilities and hospitality afforded to us yesterday.
The visit was the first in a series of visits to various areas in Scotland. What works in Wester Ross might not work in the east end of Glasgow. The committee's view is that we should have the opportunity to see at first hand the varying approaches adopted by police forces and more localised divisions. Yesterday's visit demonstrated how one form of community policing can work in certain areas. It also seemed to highlight some of my reservations, but we have a long way to go on this issue and we must keep an open mind at this stage. A call for evidence is open and contributions from all interested stakeholders by the deadline of 5 May will be welcomed. I look forward to returning to the chamber to debate the conclusions of that inquiry later in the year.
I turn finally to police governance and accountability. The committee received contrasting evidence about the effectiveness of the current tripartite system in ensuring the accountability and governance of police forces. Police authority conveners argued that there was no need for change; however, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland, the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General for Scotland, each of whom is charged with scrutiny of elements of the police service and police authorities, raised significant issues and made proposals to strengthen the system.
In oral evidence, John Baillie, chairman of the Accounts Commission, explained that the present tripartite arrangement means that
"the question of who is responsible for what is slightly cloudy."—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 13 November 2007; c 274.]
Given the level of expenditure devoted to the police service in Scotland, that is a genuine cause for concern.
On accountability and governance at the local force level, the committee was of the view that the current tripartite arrangements should be strengthened in order to clarify the role and responsibilities of each of the partners and to enhance the capacity of police authorities to scrutinise independently chief constables and police forces. The committee therefore recommended that the Scottish Government should restate and clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of chief constables, police authorities and the Scottish Government within the tripartite relationship.
The committee also recommended to the Scottish Government that it should introduce appropriate mechanisms to strengthen the accountability of ACPOS in order to secure its legitimate status as the leadership of the police service in Scotland. ACPOS was keen to stress in its submission that accountability should continue to be applied locally at force level but, at the same time, it recognised that the present systems could be better articulated. However, I am sure that other committee members are as concerned as I am by the Government's response to the recommendations—which is, quite simply, to do nothing. That demonstrates complacency at best, and I invite the cabinet secretary to provide the Parliament with a justification for the apparent inaction.
The committee's inquiry into the effective use of police resources has highlighted a series of issues about police funding; the role, responsibilities and public expectations of the police; and the current arrangements for governance and accountability. I look forward to hearing other members' contributions to the debate and the Government's response to the points that are raised.
As I said, the report has been a successful piece of work. I have paid tribute to my colleagues on the committee, but it would be remiss of me not to thank our committee adviser, Professor Nick Fyfe; our own Scottish Parliament information centre researchers; and, in particular, our committee clerks—Dougie Wands, Anne Peat and Euan Donald—who, assisted by Christine Lambourne, responded to the committee's frequently outrageous demands for further information and arrangements with unfailing good humour and total professionalism. We are very grateful to them. As I said, there is still some way to go with the inquiry, but much has already been achieved.
- That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Justice Committee’s 4th Report, 2008 (Session 3):
Report on Inquiry into the Effective Use of Police Resources (SP Paper 50).
- The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill):
I welcome the Justice Committee's report and endorse the convener's thanks and tributes to all those who were involved in whatever role. I thank the convener, and welcome the opportunity to debate an issue of such importance. I welcome the committee's continuing work on community policing and I look forward to supporting it on this most critical and important of issues. I am also grateful for the convener's speech, which has helped to focus matters. I give him an undertaking that if something is not addressed in my speech, I will be more than happy to engage with him and the committee in future weeks and months.
I thank all the police in Scotland, as their role is absolutely critical in serving our communities, and it is only with the help of the police that we can make Scotland safer and stronger. It is an often difficult and sometimes dangerous job and we are blessed in Scotland with an excellent police service. As a Government we are taking a new approach to government and there are new relationships among national Government, local government, delivery partners and citizens. Effectiveness, openness and accountability are the key to those new relationships.
At a national level, we take the strategic decisions about what outcomes we are seeking to deliver, but decisions about how outcomes are delivered are often best taken locally. Indeed, the committee's convener mentioned the difference between policing in Wester Ross and elsewhere. We have a clear, overarching purpose of government: sustainable economic growth. Safer and stronger—one of the five key strategic objectives—is helping local communities to flourish and to become stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life for all our citizens.
But what about our Government's vision for policing in Scotland? At the heart of our vision for the Scottish police service is to ensure that communities have a clear understanding of the level of policing that they have a right to expect, how it is being delivered and how their views are taken into account, which was mentioned by the convener in his speech and by the committee in its report. That means building capacity at the local level. We are clear about that in our manifesto commitment to make 1,000 additional officers available in communities and we are not only delivering on that, but going substantially beyond by also looking at recruitment, retention and redeployment. We, as a Government, are committed not only to recruitment, but to the retention of valued, experienced officers and the redeployment of officers that is happening—chief constables are acting with great alacrity and considerable success at the present moment.
Our vision means building capacity nationally through the Scottish Police Services Authority and greater collaboration between forces in what is, after all, a small country. It means working in partnership with the criminal justice system and other delivery partners. We do not want only to tackle crime, we want to prevent it, and we recognise the police's key leadership role within the wider community engagement agenda. Our vision also means nurturing what makes policing in Scotland special—our people, and how they operate—and it means letting constables use their discretion in tackling crime on the ground.
- Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD):
I could not agree more with the cabinet secretary that decisions are best taken locally and that chief constables should make the decisions. In order to do that, however, they need resources, which this debate is about. Does he agree that Grampian Police force, which serves 10 per cent of Scotland's population, should receive 10 per cent of the resources that are available to police forces in Scotland?
- Kenny MacAskill:
That is a matter that both Mr Rumbles and the convener of Grampian joint police board have raised. It is clear that we are delivering in relation to a formula that we inherited. What matters most is that we have the record numbers of police officers that have been championed by Chief Constable McKerracher. The Government is delivering, the member is receiving, and his communities are benefiting not only from the recruitment of ever-more police officers, but from their delivery on the ground.
The Justice Committee's inquiry into the effective use of police resources complements the Government's work. In response to the committee's report, and to ensure delivery of the Government's vision, I intend to ask our independent professional adviser on policing, Paddy Tomkins, to conduct a short-life review to ensure that the more specialist and high-profile police operations do not lead to the removal of front-line police officers from visible policing in our communities and to ensure that all parts of Scotland get the best possible service when something unusual or complex happens.
We will invest £94 million during the current session of Parliament, not only to fund directly 1,000 additional officers but to improve retention and redeployment. We want more police officers to become part of the fabric of communities, using their local knowledge to build strong relationships with families and businesses in their local area. That is not about numbers or head count. It is about capacity.
- David Whitton (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab):
For the sake of clarity, will Mr MacAskill bring us up to date with how many extra police officers we have gained since he became the Cabinet Secretary for Justice?
- Kenny MacAskill:
Given that we inherited the lowest level of recruitment since devolution, the member will be glad to know that we managed to deliver 150 additional officers by the end of the previous financial year. The Government is on the case and is delivering despite the difficulties that we inherited—not just the lowest ever level of recruitment but the fact that 2,300 officers are due to retire. That is why it is not simply a question of recruitment and why we are committed to retention and redeployment.
- Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab):
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention on that point?
- Kenny MacAskill:
Not at the moment. I need to make some progress.
We are investigating how we can retain officers' skills and experience.
It is important that support services are delivered as efficiently as possible throughout Scotland. That is why the Scottish Police Services Authority was established with cross-party support. In a small country, we should not do things eight times if we need do them only once. The SPSA exists to support forces by freeing up officers to do what they do best—delivering front-line policing to our communities. The authority has existed for less than a year but it has already started to deliver improvements in the quality and efficiency of police support services, releasing resources that can be ploughed back into front-line policing. We have no plans to change the number of police forces in Scotland, but we will continue to consider the scope for the SPSA to take on additional support services when it is more efficient and effective for services to be provided nationally.
- Bill Butler:
The cabinet secretary will be aware that, in paragraphs 141 to 146 of the report, the committee makes some observations about the tensions that have arisen between the SPSA and individual forces. Would he care to comment on the committee's concern about that?
- Kenny MacAskill:
A lot of copy is being generated by one particular newspaper. I met the SPSA this week and it does an excellent job. I also meet ACPOS and will be going to the Police Federation shortly. There is general recognition that matters are working out in the best interests not simply of policing in Scotland, but of our communities.
It is not only support services that are important. The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, which is supported by the SPSA but is operationally independent, plays an important role in dealing with the challenge of serious organised crime. We set up the serious organised crime task force to ensure that we get the maximum collective impact on organised crime from the efforts of our police forces and other law enforcement agencies.
On counter-terrorism, the Glasgow airport incident demonstrated that even the largest force in Scotland needs to collaborate. That is backed up by ACPOS's work on the forces' capacity and capability to deliver on national and strategic objectives. Partnership working is more important than ever—it makes more clearly the link to the wider community engagement agenda in which the police have a key leadership role. Only by working in partnership can we achieve success in some of our key challenging areas, such as drugs, alcohol, violence, gangs and antisocial behaviour. Ideally, we want to prevent people from becoming embroiled in the criminal justice system by ensuring that the police are in our communities, that they use their experience and discretion in considering how to respond and that they act as role models.
Policing in Scotland is special. It is essential that we continue to attract, retain and reward the right people with the right skills. We have shown our commitment to the Scottish police service by our acceptance of last year's arbitration of the pay award without quibble or question. It is essential to recognise that at the heart of successful policing is the constable, using his or her discretion, judgment and local knowledge to do what is right in the circumstances in their area. Our whole approach to policing and to government reflects just that.
We are building capacity at the local level to reduce crime and fear of crime. We are supporting that nationally not only to ensure consistency and the freeing up of police officers, but to ensure that we have the capability to respond nationally where we need to. In addition, we are working to ensure that Scotland's police recruit the best and that it is exciting and rewarding to work in Scottish police services. I welcome the work of the Justice Committee and the opportunity to debate this important area. I look forward to the Justice Committee's inquiry into community policing and to working with the committee on that.
- Paul Martin (Glasgow Springburn) (Lab):
The Justice Committee embarked some months ago on a significant piece of work on the effective use of police resources. What has been clear since the first stage of the inquiry—I think all the committee members will recognise this—is that all the witnesses, including the minister, have a genuine appetite for changes to the delivery of police services throughout Scotland to ensure that what was fit for purpose 40 years ago is made fit for purpose in the 21st century. As the cabinet secretary said, our communities value the important role that our police officers play in those communities. In our deliberations, the committee sought to ensure that we would produce recommendations that would amplify local concerns.
I am afraid that we have not had clarity from the cabinet secretary about police numbers. The committee was clear on the issue, recognising on a cross-party basis the importance of the Scottish National Party Government delivering on its manifesto pledge—which was not in small print—to deliver 1,000 additional police officers on our streets. We sought assurances that the funding for that would be provided. However, the Government has again attempted to wriggle out of its commitment, which sends the message that the glossy manifestos that were sent to every household in Scotland that advised people that they would see 1,000 additional police officers in Scotland now mean nothing but an empty promise.
- Kenny MacAskill:
I remind the member that this Government inherited the lowest level of police recruitment. Had the election result been different, is it not the case that we would have faced the lowest level of recruitment and no commitment by the Labour Party to the recruitment of any additional police officers? Through the three Rs—recruitment, retention and redeployment—the Government is delivering 1,000 additional officers to our communities.
- Paul Martin:
To paraphrase a comment that the First Minister made in the chamber earlier, Mr MacAskill is in government now and we are not. It is for the Government to answer the questions on its manifesto. What is clear from the recommendation in our committee report—I reiterate that it was agreed by all the parties represented on the committee—is that we want to ensure that the funding is in place to deliver the 1,000 additional police officers. However, I am happy that the cabinet secretary has now clarified that he will not deliver 1,000 additional police officers, which is unlike what we heard from the First Minister again today.
The committee report rightly refers to the concerns about the tensions between the SPSA and the police forces. We cannot ignore that. I am afraid that I am not reassured by the cabinet secretary's comments on that; they mean that he is not willing to show leadership to ensure that we deal with that issue. I appreciate what a complex issue it is, but we call on the cabinet secretary to show leadership by defining the SPSA's role and the relationship that it should have with other agencies throughout Scotland. The creation of the SPSA was supported by a wide spectrum of interest. Labour supported it, and we continue to do so. However, the cabinet secretary must show leadership to ensure that we take the issue forward. It is time for him to do that in the most effective manner possible.
The committee called for a clearer definition of the role of community policing. We need to develop further how our community police officers and their senior officers interact with the communities that they serve. I have been struck by the difficulty for communities in identifying their community police officers. I interrogated Strathclyde Police's website today to try to find out who my community police officer is, but it did not provide that basic information. If our officers are to be accountable to their communities, we should provide on websites, for example, basic information on who those officers are and contact details such as e-mail addresses. In the modern era of information technology, it is unacceptable not to provide such basic information.
The committee firmly supported the crucial role that community wardens play by assisting our police officers throughout Scotland. I note with interest that the Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing, will ensure that the committee's views on that issue are taken into consideration. I make it clear that Labour members are proud of what our communities have done over the years in partnership with our community wardens, which the previous Liberal and Labour coalition delivered, to stand up to antisocial behaviour. Any attempt to dilute the stance that the previous Government took will not be accepted by Labour members.
As the committee moves on to its next inquiry phase, it is important that we continue to be willing to progress the issues with an open mind, that we give our communities maximum protection and that we make the most effective use of our police officers throughout Scotland. I ask members to support the motion in Bill Aitken's name.
- John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con):
On the Scottish Conservatives' behalf, I welcome the Justice Committee's report and congratulate the convener and committee members on their work on it.
I will focus on a couple of points from the report. The committee's inquiry highlighted the enormous changes in the social, economic and political context in which Scotland's police forces are required to operate. The committee therefore recommended that, in this parliamentary session, the Scottish Government should initiate an independent review of the police's role and responsibilities. We support that.
Of particular note to the Scottish Conservatives was the committee's view on police numbers and resources. The Scottish Conservatives have long held the view that more police officers are needed out in communities to provide a visible deterrent to crime and to boost public confidence. We have consistently campaigned for extra police officers. We do not want those officers to sit behind desks and deal with paperwork; we want them out there in communities to make our streets safer.
The committee's unanimous opinion was that, although determining the ideal funding level for policing is extremely challenging, police resources are currently inadequate to allow forces to meet all their commitments effectively. That tells us a lot about the Liberal-Labour Administration's record on police funding in its eight years in office.
It is interesting to note that a report that the Scottish Police Federation commissioned from none other than Professor Arthur Midwinter said that, per head of population, spending on the police was 20 per cent higher in England than in Scotland. The federation's general secretary has said:
"since devolution we have been very poorly treated".
Labour did not commit to a single extra police officer in its 2007 election manifesto—not one more. In the Finance Committee, Labour proposed no amendments to increase police numbers in 2008-09. What is more, in the Justice Committee, Labour voted against Bill Aitken's proposal of 1,000 new police by 2011. Labour voted against extra police—so much for the previous Government's record on police funding to help to keep our streets and communities safe.
- Bill Butler:
Is the member aware that, from 1999 to 2007, the Labour-led Executive provided 1,500 additional police officers on the streets?
- John Lamont:
The evidence from the Police Federation speaks for itself. I quote again the federation's general secretary, who said:
under the Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration—
"we have been very poorly treated".
As we heard from the committee's convener at the start of the debate, the committee welcomed the promise of funding to recruit 500 additional officers during the spending review period. It also concluded that the Government's plans to retain or redeploy a further 500 officers would be very challenging to deliver. The committee, like the Scottish Conservatives, recommended that more money should be allocated for policing—enough to raise the level of recruitment to 1,000 officers.
Although I appreciate the fact that the SNP Administration has inherited the problem of an underfunded police force in Scotland, that does not get the Government off the hook entirely. This was, after all, the first big U-turn by the SNP Government—in fact, it was a double U-turn by the Government on the recruitment of police. First, this time last year, during the April heat of the election campaign, it promised 1,000 new and extra police officers in its manifesto—no ifs, no buts, no maybes. However, by the end of 2007, it made its first U-turn when it changed its mind and decided that those 1,000 new officers were to be made up not only through recruitment but by preventing early retirement and by redeploying officers. The SNP back-tracked and U-turned in a betrayal of the public and of the police.
Then, in the early days of 2008, during the budget process, the Government saw the error of its ways. It was persuaded by the arguments that were put forward by the Scottish Conservatives and it amended its budget to allow the recruitment of 1,000 additional police officers. Scotland needs those extra police officers not just to put right the wrongs of eight years of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but to deal with the SNP's soft-touch Scotland in which more and more criminals are being let out of prison even earlier.
The Scottish Conservatives have fought throughout the budget process to increase the levels of police recruitment, starting from this year, and we have succeeded. Without the Scottish Conservatives, Scotland would have only 500 new police officers over the next four years. There is only one party in the Parliament with any credibility on the issue and—guess what—it is the Scottish Conservatives.
We welcome the report and its findings. However, is it not a shame that we needed an inquiry to highlight the inadequacies of the funding of Scotland's police, which we all knew about? Yes, we must ensure that our police forces are adequately funded in the future, but we also need to end the SNP's soft-touch Scotland.
- Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South) (LD):
I apologise on behalf of my colleague, Margaret Smith, who is the Lib Dem member on the Justice Committee. Sadly, she is not here as she has a problem with her back. She specifically asked me to pass on her thanks to her colleagues on the committee, with whom she has worked well, and to all the people who came to give evidence. In particular, she wanted me to convey her thanks to all the parliamentary staff. I was on both the Justice 1 Committee and the Justice 2 Committee in the previous session of Parliament. We always asked for great commitment from our staff, and whenever we asked them to do something they came through. I thank them, too.
I welcome the debate and the on-going work of the Justice Committee in investigating the effective use of police resources, marking 40 years since the enactment of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. Clearly, the roles and responsibilities of the police have changed a great deal since then, particularly in recent years, so this was an important time at which to assess the efficacy of the police's provision of services to the Scottish people.
There are increasing demands on the police force, for instance as a result of changes in legislation and in our society, as well as the heightened threat of terrorism. In the evidence that was given to the committee by police authorities and joint police boards, it was clear that they feel that their current level of resources is insufficient to deliver the policing that they feel is desirable and which the public expect of them. However, the issue is not just about the level of resources that our police forces have; it is also about the ways in which those resources are used. There are concerns that resources have been drawn away from the front line of policing, with only a small percentage of police officers available for deployment in any 24-hour period.
As part of its investigation, the committee also set out to look into the Scottish Government's commitment—to which Paul Martin referred—to provide an additional 1,000 police officers. Through that investigation, the committee learned that the pledge was, basically, undeliverable. Even the cabinet secretary now seems dubious of the possibility of fulfilling that pledge; he admitted last month in his response to the committee's report:
"Ensuring that the establishment remains at 1000 above the 2007 establishment will be difficult given the significant number of officers who are due to retire over the next 3 years".
I share the committee's disappointment that more information on the expected timetable for implementation of a new or revised retention scheme has not been provided and join its calls for the Scottish Government to supply that information at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will respond to that point in his closing speech.
There are serious concerns about how realistic the planned efficiency savings are. I back the continuing efforts of police forces to improve the efficiency of the service, but the commitment to saving 2 per cent of the total budget seems somewhat optimistic. Is that goal realistic, or just another unbelievable pledge from the SNP?
The Justice Committee is committed to monitoring the progress on efficiency savings, and the ability of the SPSA to contribute to those savings will be critical. The establishment of the SPSA in order to deliver effective support services nationally, along with benefits of scale and collaboration, was a key measure from the previous Scottish Executive to ensure that police forces had more time to concentrate on core business, and to make savings that could be reinvested to improve police services.
However, it must be ensured that the SPSA and chief officers can work together constructively so that real benefits can be delivered for the people of Scotland. The SNP needs to consider the tensions that have arisen in that area. Strathclyde, which has Scotland's largest police force, has yet to sign a service level agreement with the SPSA for forensic science services, despite the transfer of those services more than a year ago. Does the Government think that that is a problem? What progress has been made on the handover of information and communication technology services? Is it going smoothly? What is the cabinet secretary's response to the concerns that were raised by the SCDEA over its autonomy within the SPSA?
I understand that the committee heard differing views from police organisations and the Scottish Government on the scope for further civilianisation within the police force. I share the committee's reservations about the potential for further civilianisation to release significant numbers of police officers to front-line duties. Although there is definitely a place for civilians to work with the police to free up qualified officers for front-line police work, there is a point at which people expect, rightly, that criminal investigations and sensitive procedures will be carried out by fully trained police officers. That is why the Scottish Government needs to recognise that there is a need to recruit new, additional police officers. The Scottish Labour Party's manifesto did not recognise the need for extra police, and the Labour Party that is in charge south of the border would rather waste more than £5.4 billion on an unworkable identity card scheme, which will not make our communities safer. It will not tackle terrorism, fight crime, beat benefit fraud and stop illegal immigration. That money should be spent on putting more police on our streets.
Community wardens, along with other civilian police support staff, provide a valuable service, as I have said. However, more wardens, as called for in Labour's manifesto, would not be a substitute for more police and they should not be used as a cheap alternative to the recruitment of more police officers.
- Nigel Don (North East Scotland) (SNP):
I, too, begin with a few thanks. The convener mentioned the fact that I was one of the newcomers to the team, and I express my thanks to the other members of the Justice Committee for the courteous way in which they handled the discussions. That was much appreciated by those of us who were, to start with, decidedly wet behind the ears. I also thank the convener; I do not think that anyone has specifically done so yet. Frankly, the way in which a committee works depends entirely upon how it is convened, and I have no difficulty in recognising the convener's significant contribution to our task. I thank him very much.
I was as amazed as everyone else to discover that for 40 years no one had seriously considered the subject of the police and what they were about, and the task has been interesting. I do not want to rehearse the issues that have been picked up on. One of the issues that emerged is the fact that public expectations are high and, realistically, not achievable. We might have to acknowledge the fact that, whatever we can do to improve the police service, it will probably never be good enough for some.
We have spoken about the SPSA, and the fact that it is relatively new and still evolving. I wonder whether a lesson could be learned from recent events at a large airport a little bit south of here. Perhaps if British Airways had taken the opportunity to commission terminal 5 slowly by having a few flights on the first day and a few flights more the next day, the problems might have been discovered at a rate at which they could have been solved. British Airways will no doubt pay the price for what happened at terminal 5, but that is not my problem. However, we need to be careful that we do not ask institutions such as the SPSA to do too much too quickly. The tendency for young things, when they run too fast, is to fall over. Although the people who manage the SPSA may not be young, I think that we need to give the authority some room to work out what it is about.
On the pledge to provide 1,000 extra police, I do not mind putting on record that, if I had knocked on the door of anyone here during the campaign—they would have had to be living in Dundee for that to happen—and they had asked me what that pledge meant, I would have said then that it meant 1,000 extra police on our streets. When I asked one of my local inspectors what 1,000 extra police would mean, he did a little calculation and reckoned that it would mean one extra officer per shift per section of the police across the country. I think that that is what it means. I still think that that is achievable and will be done by improving the general efficiency of everything that goes on.
Recently I took the opportunity of accompanying the Grampian Police section that is responsible for policing Aberdeen city centre. I made the mistake—or took the opportunity, depending on one's point of view—of accompanying the officers between about 11 o'clock on a Saturday night and 4 o'clock on a Sunday morning. It was a very interesting experience, from which I drew two conclusions. First, a great deal of what our police do is not widely appreciated by the public because they are not there to see it—and it is a pretty tough task on occasions. Secondly, there is always more to do than there are folk to do it. That is not meant as a criticism.
- Mike Rumbles:
Will the member address the issue on which I tried to get the minister's agreement? As a North East MSP, does he agree that Grampian Police, given that it deals with 10 per cent of the population, deserves 10 per cent of the funding?
- Nigel Don:
No, not quite; I do not accept that the numbers are that simple. I accept that we have an inherited distribution but, quite honestly, I do not know where the distribution came from or how long ago it was calculated. As with the general distribution formula for local authorities—which is another thing that we might have a scrap about at some stage—the distribution needs to be looked at periodically to see whether it is appropriate. I do not know what the answer is, but I certainly would not say that, because a force deals with 10 per cent of the population, it should have 10 per cent of the funding. To say that, for example, because a force deals with 14 per cent of the population, it should get 14 per cent of the funding is not good enough. However, I am sure that the issue needs to be addressed.
We have been told that, because about 85 per cent of the police budget is spent on salaries, achieving cash efficiencies of 2 per cent will be difficult because they will somehow need to come from the other 15 per cent. That seems to me wrong, quite frankly, so I want to nail that argument. The 85 per cent that is spent on salaries covers not only police officers but the civilians who work in the service, who will include folk who could improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Over time, fewer civilian employees could well deliver the same result. Therefore, the argument about where those 2 per cent efficiency savings will come from is not quite as simple as some would have us believe.
My last point—although I would like to make many others—is about community policing. We had the opportunity of seeing that yesterday in Dundee and, like the convener, I am grateful for the way in which we were received and for what we were able to see. I draw from that one simple conclusion, which is that I am not convinced that we will be able to come up with a watertight definition of community policing. As an engineer, I hesitate to say that we should not use numbers, but we need to be careful that we use the right numbers. What might do as a model for community policing in Dundee or Strathclyde might be inappropriate in rural parts of Perthshire. We need to be very careful that we do not go for a definition that does not achieve much.
- Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab):
I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to contribute to today's debate. Like others who have spoken, I thank all those who assisted the committee, including the Parliament staff, all those who gave written evidence, the witnesses and our adviser. In particular, I thank the convener for his kind words this afternoon, which I hope he will remember—they are now on the record—when he is deciding whether to allow us some latitude in asking questions at future committee meetings.
The remit of the committee inquiry was to review the use of police resources, including plans by the Scottish Government to provide an additional 1,000 police officers. As is the case with most committee inquiries, we came away from it with both answers and further questions. The report that we are debating is not the end of the committee's work on the matter, but the beginning of a new stage of inquiry. As the convener pointed out, we have already called for evidence on community policing.
As chamber time is limited this afternoon, I would like to highlight just a few of the areas that the committee probed. One of the report's main recommendations is for the Scottish Executive to initiate a review of policing in the 21st century. That is essential. Life has changed over the years—as it does—and we need a police force that can respond to those changes and move with the times to deliver a service that provides members of the public with security and confidence that police officers at all levels can respond to protect them against those who wish to break the law. As the convener indicated, we need a police service that can counter threats from terrorism and which is ready to respond as necessary in the global context. We need a service that is equipped with the knowledge and the technology to help police to detect the many types of crime that are associated with wider internet use, and that is ready to act in response to the changing needs of the communities that all of us represent.
We may already have such a police service, but the committee acknowledged that expectations of the police have changed over the past 40 years, as have the crimes that are committed by those who break the law. The Government must work with the public, the police and the Parliament to deliver the independent review for which the committee has called. The committee reasonably called for the review to be carried out in this session, but I say to the minister that it would be better for us all if it took place sooner rather than later.
Another issue that the committee considered was police numbers. The matter was topical at the time of our inquiry and is still a subject of much debate. The Parliament and the people of Scotland want to see results on police numbers. The committee considered the issue at a time when, thanks to a Labour Government, record numbers of police were in post. In the 10 years between 1986 and 1996, under a Tory Government, police numbers rose by 1,088. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2006, under a Labour Government, they rose by 1,938—a substantial figure that cannot be disputed and which represents a substantial increase on the number of police provided in the previous 10 years. The number of civilian support staff for our police officers also rose substantially—by more than 3,000—under the Labour Government.
As we have heard this afternoon, the SNP came into government promising 1,000 extra police officers on the beat. By the time that we started our inquiry, it was wriggling out of that promise and coming up with all sorts of combinations to achieve it. In fact, the minister could be accused of resisting arrest or not accepting that he was het. Was it to be 1,000 new police officers, 1,000 additional police officers or 1,000 extra police officers? I do not know. It is clear that the SNP did not know before last May and that, in government, it still does not know how it will deliver the commitment.
The SNP's three Rs policy will not work. Recruiting 150 officers in one year will not add up to 1,000 over this session. When will the cabinet secretary accept that retention will not provide a significant number of extra officers? The committee heard evidence that redeployment, the cabinet secretary's third R, would increase numbers only at the margins. How will the increase be delivered? I ask the cabinet secretary to give us his calculation of police numbers. How many officers will be recruited? How many will be retained? How many will be redeployed? Those are simple questions for a Government minister, but the cabinet secretary was unable to answer them during his evidence to the committee. We are a few months further down the road, so he has been able to gain more experience. I ask the cabinet secretary to address my questions, either in his summing-up speech or in writing to the committee and the Parliament.
- Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con):
I welcome the committee's report and the opportunity that the debate affords me, as someone who does not normally participate in debates on justice issues, to become involved in consideration of a subject that is as dear to my heart as it is to those of most politicians.
Like other members who have spoken, I have taken the opportunity to go out with the police. I suspect that most of us have done so on a Friday or Saturday night, which is the best time for the police to show us what is going on. I know that some members have had high-profile experiences in such situations. I have been out with Tayside Police in the Montrose area and with Grampian Police in the Westhill area to observe how they interact with the community when they are under pressure and how, on occasion, they operate with very limited numbers.
It is for that reason that I welcome what the report says on community policing and, in particular, on high-profile policing in community circumstances, which I believe is extremely important. We do ourselves no favours by allowing our young people, who are not criminal by nature, to believe that they can get away with offences such as littering, graffiti and minor criminal damage. They engage in such activity simply because they believe that they will not be seen, caught or punished. That develops into a belief that they will not be caught if they involve themselves in other, more serious activities.
- Mike Rumbles:
I am surprised by the emphasis that the member places on young people. He suggests that they are the only people in society who exhibit dysfunctional behaviour. Does he agree that it is completely wrong to demonise young people in that way and that the problem of such behaviour applies to everyone in society?
- Alex Johnstone:
Mike Rumbles is absolutely right, but I highlighted the behaviour of young people because I wanted to go on to suggest that we should treat other members of the community in a similar way.
We must ask our chief constables to consider extending the concept of high-profile policing from communities into the environment of road traffic. In large areas of Scotland, including the Highlands and, in particular, rural Aberdeenshire, we have a problem with drivers—especially young drivers—who pass their tests and go on to the roads believing that they can do anything without being caught. A consequence of that is that a large number of young drivers are killed or seriously injured, or find themselves being charged with offences relating to such accidents. Persistent offenders on the roads need to believe, if their behaviour is to be influenced in the longer term, that there is a danger that their offences will be detected and punished. I would like the principles of high-profile policing to be applied not just in our communities, but on our roads. That would remove the emphasis on gadgetry that is reflected in the increasing use of speed cameras and other new technology, which is designed to catch motorists who speed rather than those who are dangerous on the roads.
There are two other issues that I want to bring to the attention of the Parliament and, in particular, the cabinet secretary. Although I praise the previous Government for the work that it did in increasing the number of police officers in the Grampian region—that figure rose quite significantly during the eight years of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration—it appears that, over the same period, Tayside Police had a significantly lower increase. In fact, in the period for which I have figures, 2001 to 2006, there was virtually no increase in police numbers in the Tayside region. I have spoken to the chief constable of Tayside and know that he is concerned to ensure that his manning levels are kept up.
Of course, in Grampian, manning levels have been going up significantly, but it remains the case that Grampian has only 8 per cent of Scotland's police officers, to cover an area that has 10 per cent of Scotland's people. It has been pointed out that the percentage of police officers should not necessarily equal the percentage of the population, but there are other reasons why police numbers should be kept up in the area that Grampian Police covers.
First, there is a rapidly growing population, so the numbers are almost always out of date. Secondly, we have the headquarters of the North Sea oil industry, which is Scotland and the United Kingdom's most important energy industry. Responsibility for policing that high-profile industry on and offshore, which has been highlighted by threats in recent times, is such that resources are necessary if we are to protect the industry. There is also a long-standing complaint that the responsibility that Grampian Police takes for royal protection duties over and above the duties that are undertaken by the royal protection group means that additional costs are incurred when the royal family is resident on Deeside.
- Mike Rumbles:
That is the other place.
- Alex Johnstone:
Presiding Officer, it is important that we realise that police numbers are rising and that we have successfully extracted from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice a commitment to having 1,000 extra police officers in Scotland. However, how those police officers are recruited and deployed remains an important part of the work that we want to influence in the years to come.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan):
I should say that I have no ambitions in the direction that Mr Johnstone indicated.
- Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland) (SNP):
I associate myself with Nigel Don's comments about the help and assistance that new members of the Justice Committee have had under Bill Aitken's convenership. I thank Bill Aitken. More important, I thank the committee staff, who have been extremely helpful, particularly to new members of the committee.
As a member of the Justice Committee, I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about the recommendations in our report. The witnesses from whom we heard and the submissions that we received made for some not-so-light reading. That was unfortunate, but it demonstrated the strength of feeling about policing in Scotland. As we compiled the report we had a responsibility to consider all the views that we heard. I hope that the debate does the issue justice—pardon the pun.
During this parliamentary session and in this debate, much has been made of police numbers. However, we are debating a report about the effective use of police resources. We should not get hung up on the numbers; we should consider what is done with the resources that police authorities have. Every Government department can always use more resources, irrespective of the parliamentary session that we are in. However, the budget is finite and departments must act with the resources that they are given. The committee report welcomed the Government's commitment to provide sufficient funds to recruit 500 additional officers and I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice's confirmation that the Government's budget will provide for the much-talked-about 1,000 additional officers.
There is no doubt that we face a tough challenge, as a result of inherited problems with police numbers. High retirement figures and the low level of planned recruitment mean that we must work harder to keep Scotland safe. It is clear that the Government relishes the challenge and is not only managing to meet the manifesto pledge on the recruitment of 1,000 more officers, but is going beyond that. The additional officers will be crucial to the future of policing in Scotland and will be essential to the smooth operation of forces throughout the country. The cabinet secretary told us that 150 police recruits passed through Tulliallan before the end of the previous financial year, under the Scottish National Party Government.
The SPF, in its response to the committee report, said that the term "community policing" began to be used in Scotland in the 1970s. Community policing is an issue of great interest not only to the committee and the Parliament, but to wider Scotland. I am delighted that the committee will look into community policing in the next stage of its inquiry. From its response, I am aware that the SPF thinks that it will be "almost impossible" to provide a definition of community policing.
Given that many people are unsure about the meaning of the term "community policing", they are therefore unsure about the workings of the system. The committee picked up on that point, as is evident in our report. The recommendation that a clear definition of community policing should be created as a matter of priority should be welcomed. Understandably, having one approach to community policing throughout Scotland may not be ideal, but that can be overcome. Input from every force will be necessary and, if we are to get the best out of the system, co-operation from all will be required.
That said, I return to my earlier point on the SPF's response that it may be "almost impossible" to provide a definition of community policing. I am therefore heartened by the cabinet secretary's response to the recommendation. Work has begun on attempting to define community policing. A sub-group of the additional capacity programme board is looking into the issue, and I look forward to reading its report. As the cabinet secretary pointed out, we must ensure that recommendations on measuring the policing of communities are reflected in the Scottish policing performance framework. I trust that he will ensure that that will happen.
In order for that to happen, a comprehensive review of police roles and responsibilities must be undertaken. The committee report suggests that an independent review of the roles and responsibilities of the police should be undertaken, and due consideration should be given to that finding. I was astounded to hear that no review had been made of the role and responsibilities of the police for more than 40 years. As a new member of the Scottish Parliament, I could not get over that. I thought that such reviews were undertaken fairly regularly—after all, times change and people and situations move on. It therefore interests me that the cabinet secretary, in his response to the report, said that the Government is considering the recommendation. I will watch with interest to see the steps that are taken on the recommendation.
The role of community wardens is an interesting issue, to say the least, partly because of the lack of clarity about the work that they undertake. For example, what powers do community wardens have and how highly are they trained? The committee backed the community warden scheme. Wherever they are deployed, community wardens appear to make a positive difference. That is to be welcomed.
The issues surrounding policing are never to be taken lightly. I look forward to hearing more from the cabinet secretary on the Government's future plans, based on the committee's report.
- Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East) (Lab):
In common with other members, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I, too, congratulate Bill Aitken, the convener of the Justice Committee, and his committee members on the inquiry and on their resolve to hold the Scottish Government to account on its manifesto commitment to add 1,000 new police officers to the police establishment. This piece of work is vital and should be firmly supported by every parliamentarian. I join in the thanks to everyone who took the time and trouble to make submissions to the committee to enable parliamentarians to make informed decisions.
I hope that there is no equivocation on the part of the SNP on the issue, either today or in future. As I said last autumn, the SNP manifesto commitment was for 1,000 new police officers and not an equivalent number. By 2011, the police establishment in Scotland must rise to 17,234; otherwise, the commitment will be the biggest broken promise of all to the public of Scotland. The SNP is on trial today. It made the commitment in its manifesto—it made the promise, and a promise is a promise.
The report makes a striking point about the explosion in legislation that impacts directly on our police. The report tells us that, since 1997, 50 criminal justice bills have been introduced in the United Kingdom, compared with the one or two major pieces of criminal justice legislation that were passed every 10 years before then. Ultimately, that has impacted on the workload of the police organisation at a time when the public are demanding positive action to combat antisocial behaviour. As the Scottish Police Federation said in its written evidence, the 2004 Scottish social attitudes survey showed that cutting crime was the second highest priority for the people of Scotland. Therefore, we must deliver—there is no question about that.
- Alex Johnstone:
Does the member acknowledge that it is not only justice legislation that has impacted on the amount of time that police officers spend at their jobs and that the implementation of the working time directive has resulted in a significant erosion of available police time?
- Helen Eadie:
As a staunch European Union supporter, I applaud the working time directive, because it gives us control over the number of hours that our people work, in safe and healthy environments. The directive is a vital piece of legislation and I applaud my European comrades for introducing it.
My mind is open on civilianisation of the constabularies throughout Scotland and receptive to the arguments for it. Some submissions to the inquiry made compelling cases on that, not least that from the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers. However, my focus is on police officers. I am persuaded that there is a vital political question that we must address. A promise by any politician of 1,000 extra officers would sound substantial—and it would be a substantial measure if it ever happened. However, the clear message to me from reading the report is that even that is not enough. In the annex to one of the submissions, Arthur Midwinter provides compelling evidence that, over the decades, we simply have not paid enough attention to resourcing the police fully. In fact, expenditure on the police in Scotland is the lowest in the four nations of the United Kingdom, which is in part because of the low baseline that was inherited from the pre-devolution system under the Tories. John Lamont is simply wrong to suggest that that situation was down to Labour—the Tories have a lot to answer for on that.
For the moment, we are where we are. Arthur Midwinter's paper tells me that that situation is all the more reason to compel the Government to deliver the 1,000 new police officers. However, from what I have read, I am not clear how the police officers will be allocated throughout Scotland's police forces.
- Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con):
Will the member give way?
- Helen Eadie:
No—I must make progress.
If the intention is to proceed by allocating the 1,000 officers according to population share, the result would be 51 new police officers for Central Scotland Police, 30 for Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, 65 for Fife Constabulary, 87 for Grampian Police, 172 for Lothian and Borders Police, 43 for Northern Constabulary, 480 for Strathclyde Police and 72 for Tayside Police. However, if we take into account the four-shift system and all the other calls on police officers' time, it is interesting to note that the final outturn for new officers on the ground in Fife would probably equate to only eight in any one shift.
While I am speaking about Fife, I point out that I paid particular attention to the submission by Fife Constabulary. I support 100 per cent and endorse the key point in the submission, that
"as far as Fife is concerned, we would wish to reiterate the case we have previously made for a levelling up of the GAE share for Fife Constabulary as part of SR2007. Although the Police Authority welcomed the SR2004 settlement, in terms of the distribution, Fife Constabulary remains the lowest funded Force in Scotland at 10% less than the Scottish average."
One vital issue that the minister must address is recruitment and retention. Compelling arguments on that were made by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and by David Mulhern, who said that the fragmentation of recruitment policies in Scotland was lamentable—he did not use that word, but I am using it because that is what I read into his comments. There is no point in continuing with the present system of recruitment and training of police officers. The minister must address that urgently if he is to get anywhere close to addressing the challenge that he faces on retirement and recruitment.
The Justice Committee's report is one of the most important pieces of work to come before the Parliament.
- Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD):
I am sure that it will be no surprise to members to learn that I plan to concentrate on the continuing underresourcing of Grampian Police. With all the recent attention that has been given to the problems that Aberdeen City Council faces in trying to balance the books, it is easy to forget that there are other areas in which the north-east of Scotland receives a raw deal from the Scottish Government. NHS Grampian and Grampian Police receive less than their fair share of funding per head of population, along with Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council.
- Angela Constance (Livingston) (SNP):
Will the member give way?
- Mike Rumbles:
Let me get started—I have had only 33 seconds.
Grampian Police faces a particular problem. Not only is it underfunded when only its everyday duties are considered, but the funding formula does not take into account the force's additional responsibilities for the protection of the royal family when it is at Balmoral in my constituency and the offshore oil and gas industry, which is based in Aberdeen.
I will read a rather lengthy quotation. Although it dates from 2006, it is important to read it in full as it is an excellent summary of the position Grampian Police finds itself in:
"Grampian Police are receiving £27 less per head of population than the Scottish average and this situation is bad enough, but the fact that our Force has the added responsibilities of Royal protection and policing offshore installations makes the situation worse.
Although in recent years Grampian Police have received increases in funding we still lag behind the other major Forces. While Grampian receives £178 per person, Tayside receives £203, Lothian and Borders £205 and Strathclyde gets a whopping £225.
Ministers must review the funding formula and surely it's time … to take account of the additional duties that Grampian has and to hand over the resources for these so that the Chief Constable can put more bobbies on the beat in Aberdeen … and the other communities of the North East."
I could not have said it better myself, but I have to be honest and admit that those are not my words. They were spoken by north-east MSP Brian Adam in October 2006 and published on his website. I have a copy here if anyone is interested—I could pass it to the minister.
- Kenny MacAskill:
The member's points relate to a funding formula that was agreed back in 2004, when his party was part of the Administration. That formula took into account the factors to which he refers. Notwithstanding that, does he recognise that this Government has given an extra £1 million a year, thus ensuring that by 2011 there will be a record level of officers in Grampian? If he wishes to increase funding to Grampian, which police force's funding does he wish to cut?
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Interventions should be a bit shorter than that, Mr MacAskill.
- Mike Rumbles:
The minister mentioned 2004. Under the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration, Grampian Police received more extra police officers than under Kenny MacAskill and the present nat Administration. Let me go back to 1999—even better. I first raised the issue back in 1999, when my party was part of the Scottish Executive. I firmly believe that as MSPs we must represent the interests of our constituents before those of our parties or of the Government of the day. Back in 2000, along with SNP and Conservative MSPs, I was happy to sign a motion lodged by Richard Lochhead on the matter. How disappointing then that SNP MSPs are now only too happy to toe Kenny MacAskill's party line. I am shocked that north-east SNP MSPs such as Nigel Don will not campaign for more resources for Grampian Police and now do not even recognise that Grampian Police is underfunded. It is quite astonishing.
- Nigel Don:
My recollection is that Mike Rumbles asked me whether 10 per cent should equal 10 per cent. My answer was no. I did not argue that the amount should not be 12 per cent, 15 per cent or—
- Mike Rumbles:
Nigel Don would not campaign for a fair share of funding for Grampian police. For a north-east MSP, that is appalling. In its report, the Justice Committee was unanimously of the opinion that although
"determining the optimum level of resources for policing … is extremely challenging",
police resources appear to be
"inadequate to allow forces to effectively meet all of their present commitments."
If that is the case throughout Scotland, the situation will be worse in Grampian, where those commitments are more onerous and challenging.
This is not about asking for special treatment. It is about the Scottish Government providing adequate resources to allow Grampian Police to carry out its duties and responsibilities. The Scottish Government has already set precedents in this area. On 12 December 2007, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice announced that he was allocating an additional £1 million to Strathclyde Police—the cabinet secretary asked where the money would come from; I could ask him the same question—to deal with the costs it incurred in dealing with the terrorist attack in Glasgow. A week later, he announced that he was allocating a further £217,000 each year to Lothian and Borders Police in recognition of Edinburgh's capital city status. I would not grudge either force that additional funding. In fact, I would applaud the cabinet secretary's decisions on those matters.
In both cases, it was clear that there was a genuine argument for additional funding on the basis of exceptional circumstances over and above those with which a police force would normally deal. However, I just wish that the cabinet secretary would look to the north-east, because the responsibilities that Grampian Police incurs—with the royal family in my constituency and the offshore oil and gas industry being based in the north-east—could be classed in the same category. I call only for fair treatment for the north-east from the SNP Administration, but we are not getting it. I call on the SNP to acknowledge that fact in government as it did in opposition.
- John Wilson (Central Scotland) (SNP):
I welcome the Justice Committee's report on the effective use of police resources and the conclusions that are contained within it. I acknowledge that it was timely to debate policing and police resources.
A significant number of witnesses gave evidence to the committee's inquiry. I welcome the opportunity to place on record my appreciation for those who presented evidence to the committee and for the information that was furnished to it. Like other committee members, I place on record my thanks to, and appreciation for, the committee clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre, as well as to the convener for the way that he handled those of us who were new not only to the committee but to the Parliament.
As I have stated previously, discussions of policing and the effective use of police resources sometimes come down to the simplistic question of whether we have enough police officers on the streets fighting crime. In many ways, that is a sterile point, as effective policing has moved on apace and resourcing of the police involves greater and more efficient use of civilian support structures.
The benefit of being a member of the Justice Committee is that an inquiry into the effective use of police resources overlaps with the evidence that is presented to us for the budget process. That crossover is important, especially in the evidence that the Scottish Police Federation presented, to take one practical example. Joe Grant, who is general secretary of the federation, gave committee members a useful insight, especially into the key aspects of the use of community wardens and the reporting of crime in areas where they are deployed. As Mr Lamont stated, the Scottish Police Federation also referred to research that was conducted by Professor Arthur Midwinter, who acted as its financial consultant. Its submission referred to evidence that Scottish police expenditure is the lowest in the United Kingdom. In the evidence that he gave on 6 November 2007, Joe Grant referred to Professor Midwinter's research describing how there had been seven years' underfunding of the police service in Scotland. It is interesting that Arthur Midwinter is known to many members as the policy adviser to the Labour leader in the Parliament.
Personal experience of crime is sometimes as important in forming our mindset as all the evidence that is presented. On a Saturday night a few months ago, my property was damaged by what can only be described as joy-riders, who felt that the road in front of my house was a race track. I had left the house to collect my daughter and came back to find a car smashed into my driveway. Neighbours reported the crime to the police, who took the necessary statements, but the difficulty was that, after they had done their duty, the police officers had to wait for more than an hour and a half for a police recovery vehicle to turn up and take away the joy-riders' car. Is that a good use of police resources, particularly on a Saturday night?
In describing how effective the present use of police resources is, the report highlights the role of the Scottish Police Services Authority, which is a relatively new body but an important one that will have a key task in delivering central services. I envisage that its activities will increase over the years to come. It is vital that duplication in police structures is eliminated. Avoiding the duplication of resources involves operational issues, and the need for efficiency savings is high on the political agenda.
The committee supports the retention of the current eight forces, which the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has reinforced. That said, I could not fail to notice in today's mail a letter from the convener of Strathclyde joint police board extending an invitation to elected members in the area to discuss directly with him their views on policing. Although all invitations are welcome, that raises in my mind the issue of democratic accountability—the conveners and vice-conveners of joint police boards are well remunerated compared with the average councillor who sits on those boards. I would welcome further scrutiny of the role of police boards, especially as some of the councillors serving on joint boards to whom I have spoken feel that it is the serving officers who are driving the agenda, which is not always a welcome feature. The issue of independent support and advice for police boards is highlighted in the committee report, at paragraph 353.
The report highlights the need to examine other areas of policing, one of which was identified earlier in the debate: community policing. Witnesses gave various accounts of what was considered to constitute community policing in their areas. The Justice Committee has now decided to investigate that issue in an attempt to ensure that we can all be satisfied that community policing is addressing the needs of all our communities and is able to reflect the wishes and desires of all residents.
In answer to the point that Alex Johnstone made about the working time directive, I say that the committee questioned the Scottish Police Federation on the issue. It was clear from the evidence that Joe Grant gave that no breaches were taking place and that there was no excuse for police services being cut back on the basis of the working time directive. The figures that he gave us showed that, on average, with overtime, the working week was 45 hours, with no one exceeding an average of 48 hours, which would be breaching the working time directive.
I commend the Justice Committee's report on the effective use of police resources to the Parliament, and I look forward to future discussion on the subject in the chamber.
- David Whitton (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab):
I refer members to my entry in the register of members' interests.
It is clear from the evidence that was given to the Justice Committee that there are widely diverging views on the further civilianisation of police services. Judging from what we have heard today, I am only sorry that I am not a member of the Justice Committee, which clearly has some lively debates.
The figures in the committee's report show that the number of civilians who are employed by Scotland's police forces has increased, from 4,473 in 1996 to 7,352 last year. Most of those increases have come in the employment of clerical staff—although there have been decreases in other areas. The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, which represents senior police officers, said that there were not many more areas where civilianisation could be pursued. However, the ASPS went on to suggest that there was merit in considering whether responsibility for custody centres could be moved from the police to another agency. That view was supported by Paddy Tomkins, a former chief constable and currently Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary, who said that there was
"no need for police to be responsible for the daily management of custody facilities."
However, when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice was asked about the matter, he declared:
"I have made it perfectly clear that this government is completely opposed to privately-run custody facilities - public safety must be put before private profit … I will not hesitate to make this clear to forces if necessary."
- Kenny MacAskill:
Does the member accept that there is a considerable difference between civilianisation and privatisation, and that the Government is prepared to consider civilianisation where it is appropriate, although we disagree with privatisation?
- David Whitton:
I recognise what the cabinet secretary is saying. If he bears with me, I will perhaps enlighten him as to what benefits he could gain from some privatisation of services. His decision that he
"will not hesitate to make this clear to forces"
does not leave much scope for chief constables, and it is at odds with what he told the committee when he said:
"The best thing that I can do is to allow the chief constables to get on with doing their job. It would be inappropriate for me to seek to micromanage or direct them; I would not wish to take the approach of telling them how they should deploy their officers."—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 13 November 2007; c 298.]
Why, then, is the cabinet secretary so dogmatically opposed to the notion? Is it just because of the question of privatisation? Has he done any research to find out how systems operate elsewhere? His predecessor, my colleague Cathy Jamieson, asked for the matter to be reviewed. Perhaps he should do the same rather than being so quick to judge. Furthermore, he is still to reach his target for new police officers. From what we have heard so far today, he is not doing very well—150 new officers to date does not seem to me to be getting close to the 1,000 that he expects to have before 2011.
However, in the spirit of co-operation in which the Parliament should operate, let me offer Mr MacAskill some facts about the custody services that are run by Reliance in England. For the record, I used to do public relations work for the company in Scotland.
- John Wilson:
Is Mr Whitton advocating further privatisation in the police service?
- David Whitton:
That is not what I said.
- Kenny MacAskill:
Yes it is.
- David Whitton:
No it is not. You were clearly not listening. I will carry on. You are not listening to what I am saying.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I am listening to what you are saying actually.
- David Whitton:
I am glad that you are listening, Presiding Officer. I am glad that somebody from the SNP has some sense.
Reliance was the first private company to provide police custody assistants, which it did in Hereford in 1999, and it now has contracts with six police forces in England and Wales for custody-related services. It employs more than 424 officers, who operate in 30 custody centres with more than 470 cells in Cleveland, Sussex, Thames Valley, Warwickshire and West Mercia. It also provides forensic medical examiners in South Wales.
Reliance officers help to process and look after more than 220,000 detainees annually. Their tasks include booking in prisoners, carrying out police national computer checks, searching, providing supervision and welfare, taking DNA samples and fingerprints and managing electronic identity parades, interpreters and forensic medical examinations.
The outsourcing of custody for Thames Valley Police has released 133 police officers for front-line duties, which is something that Mr MacAskill might want to consider.
Reliance custody officers undertake a Reliance six-week, Home Office-approved training course before they begin work in a custody centre. Many officers have designated powers under the Police Reform Act 2002. The course covers first aid, communication skills, legal knowledge and the use of control and restraint techniques for dealing with violent offenders.
Since the introduction of the outsourcing contract in Sussex, the average time that is spent by arresting officers at the custody suite from arrival to authorisation of arrest has reduced from 30 minutes to nine minutes. That has been achieved by using trained Reliance custody personnel. Given that there are more than 50,000 detentions every year, that reduction leads to more than 35,000 extra hours that police officers can spend on operational duties. The saving in hours is the equivalent of having around an extra 20 full-time police officers on front-line duties.
I understand that what works in some areas might not work in others, but I am surprised by the cabinet secretary's dogmatic attitude. To rule out the consideration of privatisation of custody services, which has been seen to work elsewhere, without any consideration of the facts whatever, is more than a little pig-headed.
I understand that Mr Tomkins has been to visit Sussex Police to look at its custody centre in Eastbourne. I hope that the cabinet secretary will read his report carefully or perhaps do even better and go and visit the centre himself. After all, he visited Reliance headquarters in Scotland at East Kilbride, where the prisoner escort service is managed, and I am reliably informed that he was impressed—he must have been, given that Reliance was recently awarded the contract to transport young offenders.
The Parliament should know that, as a result of Reliance running the service in Scotland, at least 200 police officers and 300 prison officers have been released to front-line duties. That is effective civilianisation, which the cabinet secretary would do well to consider.
- Angela Constance (Livingston) (SNP):
I welcome the focus on policing in this session of Parliament. The Justice Committee is correct to focus its report on the role, purpose and effectiveness of policing in modern-day Scotland and, not least, on resources and police numbers. Throughout the chamber, we all want to strive for a safer Scotland.
On 25 April, 150 additional officers will pass out from the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan. This Government has an absolute commitment to put 1,000 additional officers on our streets and to examine how to improve capacity within Scotland's police force.
Some £94 million is to be used to recruit directly 1,000 police officers. Although we all listen with interest to the political argy-bargy, the voters in my constituency will remember what we have delivered at the end of this parliamentary session. I have absolute confidence in the cabinet secretary that, three years hence, we will have delivered 1,000 extra police officers the length and breadth of Scotland.
The actions of this Government have already paid dividends in my area. As a result of the local government settlement, West Lothian Council, along with its colleagues in Lothian and Borders Police, has been able to fund 21 additional officers and extend the safer neighbourhood team into each multi member ward. That is positive news indeed.
If Mr Lamont is concerned about "soft-touch Scotland", I invite him to visit the criminal justice social work team in Livingston, because that will show him exactly how managing offenders in the community can and should be done. If my memory serves me correctly, the West Lothian criminal justice social work team has the best record and results on probation and community service officers.
The Government's emphasis is on visible policing, which will result not only in everyone feeling safer but in communities actually being safer. There is no doubt that a tough challenge lies ahead for us in ensuring that the police force is fit and resourced for the 21st century. The Government has risen to the challenge, and the Justice Committee, to its credit, in its report bores down into the pivotal and essential issues.
The key issue, personally speaking, is community policing. I have been in representative politics for the best part of 11 years, and I cannot speak highly enough of the community police officers with whom I have had the privilege of working over the years—that is, when and where they have existed, because in the year prior to the 2007 election West Lothian, which should have had 25 community police officers, quite often operated at half that capacity due to various stresses and demands on the police force.
I draw members' attention to page 9 of the Justice Committee's report. With respect to the Scottish Police Federation evidence, the ASPS
"defined community policing as ‘softer-edged policing that includes diversionary work in youth clubs and liaison with various community groups.' Chief Superintendent Murray argued that the public wanted ‘the harder-edged, enforcing arm of the police'".
I reject any suggestion that community policing is the softer policing option. Community policing, at its best and properly resourced, is well placed to deal with the harder-edged issues, whether those are drugs in our communities, youth disorder, disorder by older offenders or antisocial behaviour.
From my own experience, I am well aware that community police officers often come up with imaginative solutions to deal with local hotspots. Community police officers have often laid down arguments to their senior officers about the need for additional resources. Other examples of partnership working have been crucial.
Community police work deserves status and has to be at the heart of what policing in Scotland is about. I look forward to hearing about the continuing work of the Justice Committee in that area. I firmly believe that the Government has risen to meet the commitment to deliver safer communities throughout Scotland. The people of Scotland will judge us on that.
- Mike Pringle:
Just to set John Lamont straight, the facts are that in 1999, there were 14,810 policemen in Scotland. In March 2007, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats left office—
- John Lamont:
They were booted out!
- Mike Pringle:
Fine. There were 16,234 police officers in Scotland. That is 1,424 more officers in Scotland—an 11 per cent rise over eight years. That is a commendable achievement, much of which was due to Jim Wallace as justice minister. The Scottish Conservatives claim that they are continuing their campaign for at least 1,500 extra police officers in Scotland. How can that be, when they have already been bought off by the SNP with the very loose commitment to 1,000 more police officers—which, frankly, it does not look as if we are going to get? On top of that, the Conservatives plan to complicate the roles of police board conveners with unnecessary red tape, compelling them to stand for election rather than allowing them to get on with their jobs.
We have a tripartite approach to delivering police services. Ultimately, decisions about operations should be—and are—taken by the police. That is overseen by police boards of democratically elected councillors and by the Scottish Government, which is also democratically elected. That is a perfectly reasonable level of public involvement in our police services. However, it could be argued that we need more engagement with local communities, which might involve informing people about the work of their local police and about local crime statistics so that they know what is going on.
I am pleased that the cabinet secretary is committed to more community police officers. As Bill Aitken, Paul Martin and Angela Constance said, that issue very much exercises communities. Margaret Smith and I had discussions with the new chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police about community police officers on the beat. He is committed to trying to keep community police officers in their areas for as long as possible. There is no doubt that that is what communities want. We will continue to push the Scottish Government on its commitment to create more community police officers.
Paul Martin mentioned that he does not know who his community police officer is. We are better served in Lothian—
- Paul Martin:
My point was that many of my constituents do not have access to information about who their local police officer is, and I want clarity about that. I am in a position to access that information.
- Mike Pringle:
I misunderstood what the member said. As the local MSP, and perhaps like Paul Martin, I know who all the community police officers are in my area. I agree with Paul Martin. If the information is not available on Scottish police authorities' websites, perhaps he and the other members of the Justice Committee should examine that.
I was taken with Angela Constance's comments about community police officers. I agree with everything that she said. However, I add that community police officers know who the local hoods are, who the local neds are and who the fast drivers are. They know who is likely to commit crime in their local area. As I said, the chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police is committed to keeping police officers in their communities for as long as possible.
- Alex Johnstone:
Before the member reaches the end of his speech, will he take the opportunity to clarify whether it is the fault of the former Liberal justice minister Jim Wallace that, even though the number of police officers increased significantly during the years of Liberal Democrat and Labour government, Grampian remained significantly underfunded?
- Mike Pringle:
Clearly, I do not have a great deal of knowledge about exactly what happened in Grampian—I am not a Grampian MSP. My recollection is that Jim Wallace increased funding to all police authorities throughout Scotland. It might not have been enough for the member, but Jim Wallace did give an increase throughout Scotland.
Fear of crime is often much greater than actual crime rates warrant, and there is a good story to be told about the work that is being done by our hard-working police forces. As well as ensuring that there are enough police on our streets, we must ensure that the public are aware of the good work that our police forces throughout Scotland are doing.
- Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con):
As many contributors to the debate have pointed out, the Justice Committee's inquiry into the effective use of police resources comes some 40 years after the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, which is the statute that sets out the general functions and duties of the police. To state that the review is long overdue is an understatement, for there is no doubt that both the nature of policing and the public's expectations of the police have changed dramatically in the past 40 years.
Section 17(1)(a) of the 1967 act defines police functions and duties as
"to guard, patrol and watch so as—
(i) to prevent the commission of offences.
(ii) to preserve order, and
(iii) to protect life and property".
The act's provisions conjure up, to quote Bill Aitken, almost a "Dixon of Dock Green" image. It is tempting to conclude that it was all so simple then—it is not so simple today.
The Justice Committee's report is clear in its findings that, with increased general societal and legislative demands, and taking into account specific demands on individual forces, examples of which were explained in depth by Alex Johnstone and Mike Rumbles, existing resources are insufficient to deliver the 24/7 policing that the public expect. Today, the police must spend more time carrying out greatly expanded duties pertaining to the increased incidence of drug and alcohol-related crime, the implementation of European convention on human rights legislation, the Macpherson report on racism, policing the night economy, and terrorism incidents and their prevention. On top of all that, the police must devote adequate time to maintaining the sex offenders register. That is just a few of the police's duties.
It is not surprising that, in its evidence to the Justice Committee, ACPOS concluded that there were
"insufficient officer numbers to meet public and political expectations."
Significantly, however, the organisation stressed that the issue is not merely about the numbers of police that are required but, crucially, about how effectively the police use finite resources.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Police Federation believes that there are deficiencies in and increasing public disquiet about 24/7 response policing. That disquiet is reinforced by the fact that, according to figures in a study by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary that was published in 2002, the proportion of police officers who were available for front-line deployment at any given time over a 24-hour period was a meagre 7.5 per cent. Further, the ASPS highlighted in its evidence that while it is hugely supportive of and successful in recruiting more women into the service, the change in gender mix—which reflects the communities that the police serve—has resulted in a sizeable increase in the number of officer maternity leave days. They stood at 8,500 in 1996-97, but rose to 47,500 in 2005-06.
- John Wilson:
Does the member accept that the difference between the figures for 1996-97 and 2005-06 is due to significant changes in maternity legislation, which allow for officers to take more time off, so it is not correct to compare the time taken off in 1996-97 with the time taken off in 2005-06?
- Margaret Mitchell:
No, I do not agree with that logic. It is indisputable that the number of days taken off for maternity leave has gone up considerably. Given that, it is welcome that the Justice Committee concluded that the Scottish Government requires to consider establishing a mechanism to review regularly police resources and that, as part of that review, it would be constructive to include an indication of how many police days were lost through suspension, pending inquiries into complaints.
The other part of the inquiry's remit relates to the provision of additional police officers and the efficiency of resource use. As John Lamont explained in detail, and notwithstanding Angela Constance's comments, because of Scottish Conservative representation, the number of additional new police officers that the Scottish Government is committed to providing has increased from the SNP pledge of 500 to 1,000, and they are to be in place by the end of this third parliamentary session. That is entirely in keeping with our conviction that a strong police presence provides a visible deterrent and boosts public confidence in the criminal justice system, which is borne out by the New York broken windows initiative and pilots that were carried out in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which showed that an increased, targeted police presence cut crime dramatically.
The report makes clear, however, that welcome though the 1,000 new officers will be, there will still not be enough officers to cope properly with full-time demands. While providing new and additional police officers is the preferred solution, limited resources mean that other ways must be found to cope with increased demands, including redeployment, more civilianisation and retention. Civilianisation and retention are problematic and will almost certainly be debated further, as will the question of community policing. I therefore very much welcome the Justice Committee's decision that community policing is sufficiently important and complex to merit a further inquiry, which the committee intends to undertake later this year.
- Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab):
I join the cabinet secretary, Angela Constance, Mike Pringle and others in paying tribute to Scottish police forces for their work through the years, during which it is clear that policing duties have changed. Increased monitoring of sex offenders, counter terrorism challenges, language issues in new communities, antisocial behaviour and new legislation since devolution have placed more demands on police services.
The Justice Committee's report is helpful and critical. It draws our attention to the fact that the police's role has not been examined since 1967. I give credit to all the committee's members, under the leadership of Bill Aitken—Dixon of Dock Green—who produced a unanimous report, which I welcome.
Labour members' clear view is that any review of the police's role must be about responding to communities' needs and putting that at the heart of the policing role. On my reading of the report, none of the witnesses seemed to think of the public as stakeholders. Labour believes strongly that the public must be able to hold the police to account. The public have the right to know exactly what policing response to expect, when they can directly contact the police and who their community police officer is, as Paul Martin said. They should not have to deal only with call centres. When the public have direct contact with the police, they should be clear about and have confidence in the policing structure.
The report highlights the debate about exactly what community policing is and it draws out the difficulty in defining it, as other members have said. A key manifesto commitment of the SNP Government is to make community policing part of the fabric of communities. I support that, but I do not think that the general duties of community police officers should be different from those of other officers. We must join up those duties to fight crime. In days gone by, community officers had some different duties from general police officers, but that must change—all must be involved in fighting crime in communities. If that is not the case, a resource will be wasted.
The public also want speedy and efficient responses to crimes. Some leadership might need to be provided on which aspect is more important.
We need to address detailed issues about the role of the new call centres in some forces and police response times. In defined cases in which the public have been unclear about when to expect an officer to appear at the scene of the crime, we must make clear to them what they can expect.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the continuing debate in The Herald and The Scotsman. The policing structure in Scotland must be settled soon. We do not have the luxury of having such an exchange in the press, which I believe is leading to acute tensions in the justice department. I call on the cabinet secretary to act now to consider removing the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency from the SPSA's management, for two reasons. First, removing it would give the SPSA a chance to do the job that it was designed to do and which the Parliament gave it authority to do. Secondly, it would create the management and accountability that the SCDEA needs to get on with tackling the serious and organised crime that it is charged with tackling. We must settle now the debate about where specialist police services should be delivered and we should ensure national and local accountability in our structures.
- Kenny MacAskill:
I understand the member's point about the SCDEA. One principle is that our police should be accountable, which is why chief constables are accountable to police boards. If we cut the SCDEA loose from the SPSA, to whom would it be accountable, apart from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice? Does she suggest that it should be accountable in that way?
- Pauline McNeill:
I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of the Scottish Government to propose a suitable structure. I make it clear that the SCDEA should certainly be accountable to the cabinet secretary and to us, but the current structure is getting in the way not just of the SCDEA but of the SPSA, so I ask the cabinet secretary to consider that seriously.
In improving our policing response, we should continue to uphold the important role of community wardens. There seems to be a lack of conviction from the SNP Administration on the role of wardens. Indeed, it has become almost impossible to track the financial commitment to that key and official role in the community of assisting not just police officers but other community officers who are employed by local authorities.
It goes without saying that the Government has not delivered yet on police numbers, although we welcome the additional 150 officers. It is about time that the cabinet secretary had a wee go at the Tories over their claims that they would deliver more than the SNP. I have sat back and listened to their commitments for too long. Having been in the job for several months, the cabinet secretary realises that increasing police numbers is a serious challenge. However, we, as the Opposition, will continue to challenge him and scrutinise his delivery of that policy. It is a fact that Labour delivered on it. Although we can argue about the numbers, the SNP has still to deliver. The Justice Committee's report states clearly that it expects 1,000 additional officers to be created on top of the existing establishment by 2011. I applaud the committee for putting that in its report.
Key areas must be scrutinised in achieving that pledge. The civilianisation of former and current police duties is a way of freeing up police officers, and it would be helpful if the Government laid out its approach to that. It is not at all clear to me why it is civilianising some roles but not others. I mention specifically the pilot scheme in central Scotland, which is using civilians for door-to-door inquiries. Frankly, the cabinet secretary should pull that pilot scheme in. I have serious concerns about whether we should just employ police officers to do that job. That is an important debate to have.
Are you telling me that I am in my last minute, Presiding Officer?
- The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson):
I am telling you that it is time to wind up, actually.
- Pauline McNeill:
Oh. I did not hear you say that I was in my last minute. Okay.
- The Presiding Officer:
I can give you a brief moment to finish your speech.
- Pauline McNeill:
I am grateful, Presiding Officer.
I will finish by referring to two important pressures on police numbers. The first is the pension liability. I have asked John Swinney on many occasions to state clearly whether the Government will fund the police pension liability. If the Government does not, the deal will fall apart. Secondly, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth today outlines the efficiency savings that he expects public services to make. On top of the pension burden, those savings are impossible to achieve—the cabinet secretary can ask any financial consultant that he wants. He must exempt the police service from those two burdens if he wants to achieve the Government's targets. If he is serious about creating 1,000 police officers, he should lift those burdens from the police service—then, we might get somewhere.
- Kenny MacAskill:
We welcome the debate. Indeed, I have learned something new, which I will comment on later. Some matters were to be expected and some were, perhaps, not. The debate ties in with where the committee is, which is on a journey on which it will continue to review matters. I made it clear at the outset that we will be happy to co-operate with that. The Government is also on a journey towards delivering what we think is necessary. It is about allowing our communities to understand the level of policing that they have a right to expect; building capacity to ensure that we deliver an additional 1,000 police officers into our communities, which we are doing; building capacity nationally, through the SPSA and greater collaboration between forces in our small country; working in partnership with others within and without the criminal justice system; and fundamentally building on those matters that will help to make Scotland safer and stronger.
Four clear themes have run through the debate. The first of those is the general acceptance by members of all parties—enunciated by the Justice Committee's convener in his explanation of how the world has moved on from "Dixon of Dock Green"—that the world has changed and that a review is needed. The world has changed substantially in 40 years and, accordingly, the nature of policing must reflect that. The police are there to reflect our communities, which is why it is appropriate that the Government will undertake to carry out a review and will seek to work with the committee on that.
Issues have come up around police resources and numbers, and those are matters to which we are committed. As I have said, the Government will deliver 1,000 additional officers into our communities. There is also the issue of the definition of community policing, which is at the heart of the debate.
That might mean that resources have to go into providing direct internet access to information. There is merit in being able to access a great deal of information on the internet.
We have to work out what is meant by community policing. After all, our council tax payers fund it, and our communities need police protection.
The question of police governance and whether it is in the nature of the SCDEA or the tripartite arrangement has been touched upon, and I do not doubt that it will be gone into in greater detail during the coming weeks and months.
Bill Aitken talked about the accountability of local police boards. New guidance was issued to police boards last summer that clarified the roles within the tripartite relationship. That framework will provide an ideal vehicle for achieving accountability by, for the first time, giving police boards the tools to hold chief constables to account. The Government is committed to the tripartite relationship between the justice department and cabinet secretary, the police boards and, of course, chief constables, who have operational autonomy.
Pauline McNeill, Paul Martin and Bill Butler raised the tensions between the SPSA and police authorities. We understand that there are moves to improve the situation. It is perfectly clear that the SPSA is responsible for providing a range of support services to the police forces on a national basis, and it has made an excellent start.
I will come on to the issues raised by Bill Butler, but ICT is being rolled out. The SPSA is responsible for maintaining not providing services to the SCDEA. It does not deal with SCDEA operational matters; the director general of the SCDEA has complete autonomy. I met the previous director general, and I have met Gordon Meldrum, the current director general. He made no suggestion of any interference from the SPSA. The situation should go on as it is and we should build on what we inherited from the previous Administration.
I remind members that we inherited the lowest level of recruitment since devolution, but changes are under way. Despite the disparaging comments that we have heard from some members, we have recruited 150 police in this financial year. Grampian Police has announced plans to increase its force by more than 130 to 1,600 by 2011.
- Mike Rumbles:
That announcement was made during the previous Administration.
Does the minister accept the fact that Grampian Police is underfunded in comparison with other forces?
- Kenny MacAskill:
No, I do not accept that. We have delivered £1 million in increased funding. If the member believes that Grampian police force is underfunded, then the fault lies with the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour Executive. We have added £1 million to the system created by the previous Minister for Justice in 2004. We are delivering record sums of increased funding. That is the position, whether Mr Rumbles likes it or not.
ICT roles have been transferred from police authorities to the SPSA and that is going well. All police ICT staff and functions transferred on 1 April, as I discovered when I was in Glasgow earlier this week. Service-level agreements are being sorted out and entered into. As Mike Pringle pointed out, one still has to be signed off between Strathclyde and the SPSA. Whatever Mr Martin says, I have great faith in the SPSA and its board, which, as I recall, included Councillor Rooney. Paul Martin might wish to discuss matters with him.
It is clear that the fox that was thought to have been set loose was well and truly shot when this Government delivered its commitment to 1,000 additional police officers in our communities.
- Paul Martin:
Will the minister take an intervention?
- Kenny MacAskill:
Not at the moment.
That negated the opportunity that the Opposition thought it had to skewer the Government. The Government is delivering on its promise over police officers. We are building upon the appalling situation that we inherited, and we are adding to recruitment. Clearly, that causes some discomfort. Mr Martin might say that the Labour position was not relevant, but it was. If Labour had won the election in May last year, we would not be getting any new police officers because there was no commitment to recruiting them. We have increased the numbers by 1,000, and we are on the case.
We accept the need for community wardens, but such matters are primarily and best dealt with by local authorities. However, we can tackle bad behaviour not simply by employing community wardens but by other means, such as by tackling gang violence. When I visited Mr Martin's Springburn constituency earlier this week—Mr Martin was not there—I found that the efforts of the police in Glasgow have resulted in a significant reduction in youth offending. Mr Martin is well known for never knowingly praising a child in this country, but it was quite clear that those youngsters were in fact being turned round. The police deserve credit for that.
One new thing that I learned in today's debate is that new Labour's privateers continue to operate. We heard that quite clearly from Mr Whitton, who seems to want to privatise even more of our police force. I must say that I was surprised that Pauline McNeill raised a matter about the Central Scotland Police pilot scheme, as I think that many of the suggestions should be rolled out once they have been tested. Indeed, the pilot using custody officers is going remarkably well, as I saw for myself in Alloa. Perhaps we need to work out whether, instead of rolling out the Central Scotland pilot, Mr Whitton would rather privatise such services. He wishes to privatise huge swathes of our police services. Surprisingly, he is even further to the right than the Conservative party. New Labour may continue to want to privatise police services, but we will not do that. We recognise the benefits of civilianisation and we will support chief constables in achieving that. Such operations will remain within the ambit of police boards and chief constables; they will not be privatised or given to a private sector company, regardless of whether Mr Whitton was previously on its payroll.
- Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab):
My task today is to act in a non-political fashion in closing, on behalf of the Justice Committee and as a believer in common ownership, what has been—up until a moment or two ago—a reasoned and detailed debate on the committee's report on its inquiry into the effective use of police resources. Such an important and serious subject is of considerable interest to all the communities across Scotland that members seek to serve.
I begin by recording my thanks, as deputy convener of the committee, to our clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre researchers, the committee's adviser, my committee colleagues—especially the convener, Bill Aitken—and all those who gave evidence and appeared as witnesses before the committee. Their various contributions resulted in the report that the Parliament has considered today.
The reasoning behind the committee's decision to undertake such an inquiry was sound. It is now more than 40 years since the enactment of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. Therefore, the committee felt that it was timely to look at the impact on the role of the police of developments in society in a period of such rapid change and to consider the increasing demands that are made on the service. The police officer of 1967 vintage could not have imagined the enlarged role and responsibilities that are demanded of his modern-day counterparts. The impact of e-crime and immigration crime and the globalisation of crime and terrorism—alongside the demand for much more visible, sympathetic and responsive local policing—are but a few of the contemporary challenges that the police service faces.
Evaluating whether the resources that are available to our police service are adequate to allow our forces effectively to meet all their present commitments was the focus of much of the committee's inquiry. A large part of the Justice Committee's deliberations focused on an issue that has excited—how shall I say this?—a degree of controversy over the past 10 months or so. I refer, of course, to the recruitment of additional police officers at a level that would allow forces effectively to meet all their present commitments. Just about every member who has spoken today—Bill Aitken, the cabinet secretary, Paul Martin, John Lamont, Mike Pringle, Nigel Don, Cathie Craigie, Stuart McMillan, Helen Eadie, John Wilson and Angela Constance—mentioned that important issue.
Members will be aware that the Justice Committee's report was published on 24 January, which was two weeks before the stage 3 debate on the Budget (Scotland) Bill. During that debate, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, announced the Government's intention to provide means to ensure that
"we will not only deliver 1,000 more police officers on our streets and in our communities but go substantially beyond that."
Mr Swinney explained how he aimed to meet that pledge:
"We propose to deliver the extra police officers by changing the timetable for some projects within the prisons estate and e-health budgets and by finding a contribution from the motorway and trunk road network strengthening and improvement budget."—[Official Report, 6 February 2008; c 5836-7, 5838.]
It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that John Swinney's clearly stated intention is to implement one of the major recommendations in the Justice Committee's report, namely,
"to ensure that the number of serving officers in 2011 is at least 1,000 above the 2007 establishment."
I do not question for a moment Mr Swinney's sincerity. I also welcome his implicit acknowledgement, on behalf of the Government, that the committee was correct in its view that
"to identify a further 500 officers for front-line policing"—
additional to the Government's initial promise of 500 extra officers during the three-year spending review period—
"through a combination of retention and redeployment"
"be very challenging to deliver."
However, I make the non-political point that it is legitimate for the Parliament in general and the Justice Committee in particular to monitor closely whether such a pledge can be delivered within the specified timescale. After all, it is our duty to hold Government of any political complexion to account. I assure Parliament that the Justice Committee will take that duty seriously.
One of the committee's conclusions may be of assistance. I refer members to paragraph 68 of the report, which
"recommends that the Scottish Government considers establishing a mechanism regularly to review the adequacy of police resources."
I hope that the Government will take up that suggestion, which may or may not help to take the important issue of police numbers out of the party-political arena.
The report's other major recommendation is contained in paragraphs 215 and 364, which recommend
"that within the lifetime of this Parliament the Scottish Government should initiate an independent review of the role and responsibilities of the police in Scotland, informed by the Committee's report."
- The Presiding Officer:
Order. There is too much background noise.
- Bill Butler:
Members are preparing to applaud me.
The cabinet secretary said that Paddy Tomkins would lead a short-life review of policing. Although that is welcome, it does not go far enough and is not what the committee is suggesting to the Government. I hope that the cabinet secretary will reflect on and give further serious consideration to our recommendation.
Members raised a number of other issues in the debate. The cabinet secretary referred to the reported tensions in the Scottish Police Services Authority. He dealt with Mike Pringle's point about the SCDEA, but the committee and I would welcome a response to Mr Pringle's point about the failure as yet to complete the forensic services contract.
Mr Aitken, Mr Pringle and others spoke about the tripartite system. Although we support the retention of that system, we think that its effectiveness needs to be examined. The cabinet secretary said that guidance has been issued to clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the tripartite system. However, I refer him to paragraph 351 of the report, which calls on the Scottish Government to review membership of police authorities and to consider augmenting them with
"independent members, appointed in an advisory capacity,"
"could contribute particular professional skills and expertise."
That is a sensible suggestion from the committee.
The other main issue that the committee examined in its report was community policing. I commend Angela Constance for her speech. She talked good common sense about what community policing can achieve if it is properly resourced. It is not a soft option—it is what people in communities want. The committee will wrestle with the issue of how community policing should be defined. Is it intelligent policing, reactive policing, visible policing or a mixture of all three? The committee will turn its mind to that serious task in the second phase of its inquiry, which has just begun. We hope to bring our conclusions and recommendations to the Parliament in due course, when we can debate them.