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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, March 2, 2023

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, Portfolio Question Time, Policing, Caledonian Sleeper Train, Scotland’s Links with the Arctic, Motion without Notice, Decision Time



The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a statement by Keith Brown on policing in Scotland—10 years on from reform. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement and therefore there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

As we approach the 10th anniversary of our national police service, I am pleased to make this statement to the chamber with my reflections on the police reform journey that has been continuing since 2013.

I will also offer my thoughts on Sir Iain Livingstone’s recent announcement that he intends to retire as chief constable of Scotland later this year. Sir Iain will be greatly missed—of that there is no doubt. His contribution to the success of policing in Scotland has been immense and he leaves Scottish policing in excellent health, with the service having been completely transformed over the past 10 years.

Eight local legacy forces have been replaced by one national service, providing a more strategic and consistent approach to policing than there was under the previous system. It is one of the most significant public sector reforms since devolution and it has been a success, which I believe is recognised across the chamber, if not in every part of it.

In 2019, the Justice Committee, which was the Criminal Justice Committee’s predecessor committee, stated its belief that the policy intention to create more equal access to national capacity had been met and should be considered a success story for policing in Scotland. That success has been demonstrated by the successful policing of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in 2021 and operation unicorn in 2022, and by the policing of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since reform in 2013, £11.6 billion has been invested in policing, and that investment continues. In the most recent budget, the Scottish Government has recognised the importance of policing by investing £1.45 billion in 2023-24. That is an increase of 6.3 per cent—around £80 million—to the Scottish Police Authority resource budget. It provides a stable basis from which to improve the delivery of policing and enhance the safety and security of communities across Scotland.

Despite the United Kingdom Government making cuts to the Scottish Government’s capital budget, we have maintained the police capital budget, which has more than doubled since 2017-18, supporting investment in police assets such as estate, fleet, specialist equipment and information and communications technology.

The money that we put into the police continues to be invested in the workforce. Our officers are the best paid police officers in the UK, with starting salaries for constables at around £5,000 per year more than in England and Wales. There are more officers too: as of 30 September, there were 30 officers per 10,000 of the population in Scotland in comparison with 24 officers per 10,000 in England and Wales.

Our investment has also paid dividends in terms of crime. Sir Iain rightly highlighted Police Scotland’s murder clear-up rate as one of the strengths of the service in recent years. I also point to Police Scotland’s significant role in ensuring that this week’s statistics show that Scotland has one of the lowest levels of recorded crime for any 12-month period since comparable records began in 1974. I believe that those statistics are a credit to the hard-working officers and staff of Police Scotland.

Before I look to the future, it is worth reflecting on the legacy of the longest-serving chief constable of the UK’s second biggest force. No operation was bigger than COP26, when the eyes of the world were on Glasgow. We hosted hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries, among thousands of delegates who descended on the city. Under Sir Iain’s leadership, demonstrations were policed in the traditions of Scotland’s policing, ensuring that legitimate protest could be undertaken fully and safely.

Scotland’s rights-based system of policing, coupled with Police Scotland’s engagement with activist groups and an overriding commonsense approach, resulted in fewer than 100 arrests linked with the event. Those are staggering numbers, given the scale of COP26.

More recently, Sir Iain can rightly be proud of the sensitive and effective operation that was put in place following the death of Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps above all, it is Police Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has rightly been praised, as officers took a measured and proportionate rights-based approach to their handling of an unprecedented crisis. As with our health professionals, police were at the forefront in keeping us all safe, and we owe them our gratitude.

I sincerely hope that members will join me in paying tribute to Sir Iain’s legacy. I was grateful to Sir Iain for his agreement to extend his contract when his initial period of appointment concluded last year. That ensured continuity and stability as we emerged from the pandemic. I think that it has always been clear that, at some point, he would decide to step away from his role. As he himself said last week, he will have been an officer for 31 years by the time he retires. Therefore, although last week’s news is obviously disappointing, it was not necessarily unexpected.

It will be for the Scottish Police Authority to conduct the process of finding Sir Iain’s replacement, but ministers will of course be asked to approve the appointment of his successor. Sitting at Sir Iain’s side has been an executive team that is brimming with talent. Just a few weeks ago, Deputy Chief Constable Jane Connors took up post, bringing with her a wealth of experience from her time with the Metropolitan Police. Several new assistant chief constables have also been appointed as the team continues to evolve. Sir Iain has paid tribute to the stability and leadership of his senior team, and I express my confidence in that continuity as we move towards the final months of Sir Iain’s time in office.

In the meantime, Sir Iain will continue to set Police Scotland’s strategic direction. Last week, the Scottish Police Authority considered a draft revised “Joint Strategy for Policing 2023: Policing for a safe, protected and resilient Scotland”. It builds on the principles in the existing “Joint Strategy for Policing (2020)”, while ensuring that policing in Scotland keeps pace with the challenges and opportunities of modern society.

It is right that, 10 years on, we continue to reflect on what the next steps in the reform journey should look like. In the past decade, we have seen significant changes in the profile of crime and demand, including increasing cybercrime and greater vulnerability. At the same time, there has been an increasing focus on how police respond to important societal issues such as violence against women and girls. We have also seen significant changes in digital technology and in the public’s expectations for how they access services, and those trends are likely to continue and accelerate. We need to plan for the future and ensure that policing reflects those trends and changes and is able to respond to future challenges.

Our national vision for justice in Scotland, which was published last year, sets out a transformative vision of the future justice system for Scotland in which Police Scotland will play a vital role. However, I recognise that the public sector faces a challenging budgetary environment, combined with the cost of living crisis and the resultant impact on communities—that is hardly surprising after 13 years of austerity budgeting by the UK Government. Our plan for the future must therefore demonstrate the necessary efficiency and value for money, while continuing to keep the people of Scotland safe and secure.

For policing, that will mean an even greater emphasis on collaboration with other criminal justice agencies—in particular, and where possible, the other blue light services—to ensure that the public receive the most effective and efficient care and protection. It will require a relentless focus on ensuring that police are deployed where they add most value and work efficiently with other agencies.

In setting the budget for the upcoming financial year, the Deputy First Minister was clear on the challenges that lie ahead and that further efficiencies and savings are still required to ensure that Scotland has financially sustainable, person-centred public services.

It will be a time for change—it always is. However, there are a number of constants. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of our national police service, and as we look forward in the coming months to welcoming a new chief constable of Scotland, we can be sure that the fundamental values of policing—fairness, integrity, respect and human rights—will remain. The purpose of policing that was set out in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 remains paramount: to improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes, after which we will need to move to the next item of business. I encourage members who wish to ask a question to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of his statement. I, too, place on record my best wishes, and those of members on the Conservative benches, to Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone on his retirement. I thank not just him for his three decades of service to the police but all those who have served under him over the years.

It is no coincidence that, on the same day that the chief constable announced his departure, his jointly penned report on the future of policing stated a damning truth that many of us have known for some time. His parting shot of warning to the Government is that, in its current form, policing is “unsustainable”. Why is that? It is because, as everybody knows, policing is picking up the pieces of far too many broken services. It is responding to an ever-increasing volume of mental health problems and situations that are someone else’s responsibility. The problem is that there is no one else to deal with those issues, which are taking up so much police time and taking officers away from vital policing work, including fighting crime.

When will the cabinet secretary, too, admit that the status quo is unsustainable? It cannot continue—too much is being asked of too few in Police Scotland. Does he think that Sir Iain is right that the current direction of travel in policing in Scotland is unsustainable?

Keith Brown

The answer that I am about to give is informed by a number of lengthy conversations that I have had with the chief constable on some of the issues that Jamie Greene has just raised.

Policing is made more sustainable if, for example, we have the best-paid police officers in the UK and if we have more police officers in Scotland per head of population than elsewhere. At the Criminal Justice Committee, I have heard from Jamie Greene and other members that we were about to see a reduction in police numbers to below 14,000. The only way that would happen is if we tried to match the number of police officers per head of population that the Tories have in England and Wales. If we did that, we would be down more than 2,500 police officers—

Will Keith Brown answer my questions?

Keith Brown

Mr Greene will have the answer that I am giving him. If he would listen to it and give me the same courtesy that I gave him when he spoke, I would be grateful.

Challenges remain, of course. The chief constable has been clear about that. I have mentioned two areas of challenge: violence against women and girls, and cybercrime. It is not sustainable to take the same approach that we have taken before, so that has to change. The police and the chief constable are well aware of that.

Another factor that will have to change—the chief constable is very much behind this—is blue-light services, the reform of which I mentioned in my statement. Things have to change and existing challenges have to be met, of course, but we also have to anticipate future challenges.

Jamie Greene talked about fighting crime. I have never heard Tory members offer even one word of congratulation to our police force on its fantastic track record in fighting crime, which has gone down to 1974 levels. This week, we learned of a further reduction of 2 per cent in recorded crime. The Tories have never once congratulated the chief constable or our police service on that record.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

On behalf of Scottish Labour, I associate my party with the tributes to Chief Constable Iain Livingstone and to the whole of Police Scotland for their work.

As has been said, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has warned that the proposed cuts that Police Scotland faces are “unsustainable”. The cabinet secretary mentioned the figure of 14,000 police officers. Last year, the Criminal Justice Committee was given projections that showed a frozen budget for police officer and civilian staff numbers. More money has now been made available, but we do not know what the proposed police numbers are.

Could the cabinet secretary share his understanding of the proposed numbers of police officers and civilian staff for the coming year, and outline his strategy for the recruitment and retention of police officers and civilian staff, given that we know that there is a significant problem with officers leaving the service?

Keith Brown

The first point to make is that there are no cuts to the police budget. In the budget for the forthcoming year, we are proposing a 6.3 per cent increase in funding for the police. The police budget was not frozen. I realise that a discussion about numbers was necessary because of the resource spending review, but the police budget was not frozen—the money was found.

On the question about the recruitment and retention of police officers, I repeat that paying officers in Scotland £5,000 more per year, on average, than officers elsewhere in the UK when they start to work for the police gives us a better opportunity to recruit and to retain police officers.

However, beyond that, we have more to do. I acknowledge the challenge that exists in relation to diversity in the police force. Although there is increasing gender diversity at senior levels in the police force, ethnic diversity is not yet at the level that it should be at. There is more work to do on that, not just in recruitment but in the retention of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds who have joined the police force.

Therefore, I will not pretend that this is all done and dusted. Challenges remain. That is why I talk to people who are involved in dealing with such issues in the police service, and it is why we have other bodies that do monitoring to check the police’s progress in this area. There is more to do on recruitment and retention more broadly but, with regard to the basic package that is offered to police officers, I think that the fact that they have such a tremendous track record in fighting crime is testament to the fact that we are recruiting and retaining some excellent police officers.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Despite Westminster austerity, the Scottish Government has increased police funding year on year since 2016-17, and I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has further increased the policing budget for the next financial year by £80 million. How will the budget help Police Scotland respond to the changing nature of crime?

Keith Brown

As Audrey Nicoll mentioned, the police budget for 2023-24 has been increased by £80 million, which is a 6.3 per cent increase. In my view, that will help to improve the delivery of policing and to support the safety and security of communities across Scotland. It will also provide further opportunities for collaboration and co-location with blue-light services across Scotland. We are ensuring that Police Scotland is sustainable, adaptable and prepared for future challenges.

Jamie Greene made a point about the ability of other services to pick up some of the work that the police service is doing. That is a challenge, not least in relation to health services. We share the view that there has to be reform of the police and other blue-light services and, by doing that work, we will ensure that the people of Scotland receive an improved service. We will, of course, continue to fund the police service to meet the demands on it through Government grant.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

If Keith Brown has never heard praise of policing from Jamie Greene or my colleagues, it is clear that he has not been listening.

On the Scottish National Party’s watch, the health and careers of innocent whistleblowers have been destroyed, millions of pounds of compensation has been paid out while victims have been silenced through non-disclosure agreements and officers in the grip of a suffocating complaints process have even been driven to suicide. For the sake of Scotland’s police officers, will the SNP Government fix the system that it created?

Keith Brown

I cannot bring to mind any point at which anyone on the Conservative seats has said, “Well done,” to the police for getting crime down to the level it is at, or to the Scottish Government for ensuring that a police officer here is paid £5,000 more per year or that we have higher numbers of police in Scotland. I have never heard that.

I have heard constant denigration of the police service from the Tories. I can tell them, because I talk regularly to police officers, that the police know that. Even though the Tories tag on the phrase “SNP Government”, the police know what the target is and they know how the Tories denigrate the police force; they understand that point.

Russell Findlay is also aware that our proposed police complaints bill will address some of the historical issues of how complaints, including those from whistleblowers, have been dealt with. That will be in addition to the means of redress currently available through the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. We take those issue seriously. We understand the need for reform and that reform is coming.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I was pleased to hear that Police Scotland reflects and represents the diversity of Scotland’s population. Does the cabinet secretary think that there is sufficient strategy in Police Scotland for that to continue and to improve?

Keith Brown

As I said in my response to Katy Clark, there is more to do in that area. The national service already has detailed plans under way to enhance recruitment, leadership and training in order to develop a culture that reflects its values. I welcome initiatives such as the policing together strategy, which outlines a range of actions that Police Scotland is taking, under the leadership of Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor, to mainstream equality, diversity and inclusion within the service and to attract, retain and promote a diverse workforce.

The more the police service in Scotland looks like the rest of Scotland, the more trust will be built up between the people of Scotland and the police force. I know that the police take that seriously. So does the Scottish Government, so we will continue ensuring that we have a more diverse and inclusive police force.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, wish Sir Iain Livingstone well in his retirement.

The cabinet secretary is aware that Dame Elish Angiolini’s report highlighted on-going issues of discrimination within Police Scotland. His previous answer to Katy Clark suggested that the recruitment of ethnic minorities was still a problem. That causes concern for us all, because culture change comes before recruitment. What specific steps has the cabinet secretary taken since the publication of Elish Angiolini’s report and what outcomes have been achieved?

Keith Brown

I am happy to provide a full breakdown of those of Elish Angiolini’s recommendations that do not require legislation and have been implemented. The member will be aware that, in addition to that, we will shortly be bringing forward legislative changes. Members will have a full account of all the changes that we propose.

Regarding the member’s particular point about diversity, I meet regularly with Robin Iffla—who is someone I have known for a very long time and who is conducting the review—and with others from within the force whose job it is to ensure that the force becomes more diverse.

We have a challenge, not only in recruiting people from ethnic minorities but in keeping them. That suggests that there is more to be done in ensuring that, as the member said, the culture of the police force must change so that those people feel welcomed and valued.

A lot of work is going on behind the scenes. Regarding our explicit response to Elish Angiolini’s recommendations, which we accepted, I am happy to provide a full account of everything that has been taken forward and of what is still to come because of the need for legislation.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I, too, place on record my thanks to Sir Iain Livingstone for all his work.

Despite the Tories’ politicking on the issue, they surely cannot deny that police officer numbers in Scotland remain well above those in England. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the fact that we have more police officers, with higher wages, shows the value placed on the vital role that police officers play and that policing, and the safety of communities, are clearly priorities for the Scottish Government?

Keith Brown

I agree with Fulton MacGregor. If someone was to be objective and ask whether the Government values that service, the fact that we pay £5,000 more per year for a person starting in the police force would show that there is a level of priority attached to that in Scotland that is not seen elsewhere. I agree with that point.

We have more police per head of population than is the case in England and Wales. There are 30 officers per 10,000 of the population in Scotland—[Interruption.] I know that is difficult for the Conservatives to hear, but they will have to listen to it. We have 30 officers per 10,000 of the population in Scotland, compared to 24 officers per 10,000 of the population in England and Wales.

We have a tremendously well funded and well remunerated police force, although we would always like to pay more. The success of that is shown by the extent to which we now have fewer victims and fewer crimes, because of the effectiveness of our police force in Scotland.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of the statement, and I associate my party with the comments that have been made in tribute to Sir Iain Livingstone as he retires.

In some rural and island areas, there is a sense that the centralisation of Scottish police services has meant a loss of tried and tested local policing, with the imposition of city-style policing, such as that which was seen recently during Lerwick’s fire festival. What works in the central belt does not necessarily work in island communities. Ten years on from the formation of Police Scotland, is the legacy not only that millions were spent on a merger but that there has been a distancing of law enforcers from those whom they protect and serve?

Keith Brown

It is not just about the money that is spent. I accept that point.

It would be unfair to recount specific details, but I have testimony from senior officers who served in the north of Scotland police forces in the past and who are hugely complimentary about the capacity that they now have because of the national police force.

Most recently, in Stuart McMillan’s constituency—I know that he has a question about this—we have seen that services can much more easily be brought to bear by a national police force, as it has the ability to direct them around the country, rather than what was the case with our old eight legacy forces.

Policing should of course reflect the community in which it is undertaken. The points that Beatrice Wishart has made will be taken on board and, I am sure, listened to by the police service, and I am happy to relay them to the police service in order that it can further improve that service.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that I have written to him this week about the issue that I am about to raise.

One of the welcome outcomes of a unified police force was having the flexibility to allocate officers to areas of need because of specific incidents at the time. Will the cabinet secretary provide an assurance that that flexibility will continue, and that it will be utilised in my constituency at present, due to recent serious issues?

Keith Brown

I very much agree with the point that Stuart McMillan has made, not least because he refers, I think, to a number of really quite exceptional incidents that have happened at the same time. If the police force were smaller, it would of course be less able to respond to a number of incidents at the same time, some of which require specialist services. That is one reason why the national police service works. A number of the very much smaller police forces in England and Wales struggle with such pressure when it comes to very high profile cases, given the comms that are required and the specialist nature of some of the expertise.

Stuart McMillan has every right to expect that the full benefits of the national police force should be brought to bear in relation to the incidents that he has mentioned. Once again, I am sure that the police will have heard his message.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

Scottish Greens believe that an effective police service must be community-based, enjoy public support and reflect the people that it is responsible for keeping safe. The cabinet secretary has made some comments about the diversity of the force and the work that is still to be done on that. When it comes to violence against women and girls, will the cabinet secretary provide more information on how people in Scotland can be confident that the police will be part of the solution and never, as we have seen elsewhere, part of the problem?

Keith Brown

I know what underlies the very real concern that Maggie Chapman has expressed: some of the high profile cases that we have seen, and not just in the Met—there have been challenges here in Scotland as well.

There are a number of ways in which that can be tackled. As the member knows, some of those are in the bills that we are bringing forward in the area, and we have mentioned Elish Angiolini’s recommendations. I am happy to provide the same information to Maggie Chapman that I said that I would provide to Rhoda Grant.

I talk regularly to senior officers, especially in the senior officer team, and I think that they are extremely committed to that. I mentioned in my statement that, along with cybercrime, violence against women and girls is growing. I mentioned that, this week, we have had another indication of a reduction in crimes, but that contains a small increase in violence against women and girls. The police are well seized of that and, given the comments of the chief constable and what I have said in my statement, violence against women and girls will be a huge priority for the police as we go forward.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

There have been many good reforms to policing in Scotland in recent years. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the roll-out of trauma-informed training in the police and how that will benefit members of the public?

Keith Brown

On that issue and a number of issues raised in previous questions, such decisions are often for the police to take. Quite rightly, the Government has no operational control over the police—that is written into the legislation. It is for the police, in concert with the SPA, to take that forward.

However, as the member will know, “The Vision for Justice in Scotland” requires every part, agency and body within the justice system—if it can be called a system—to undertake trauma-informed training, because the response that people get has to be more than criminals being captured and the right verdict being delivered in a courtroom. It has to mean that the victims, witnesses and other people who are affected by crime or who interact with the justice system experience a trauma-informed approach. It is the case that, whatever we think of the issue, most people in prison have a trauma-related background—usually, adverse childhood experiences.

The commitment exists, but it is for the police to ensure that it is implemented throughout the force to the extent that it is not already being done in many parts of it.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Police forces elsewhere in the United Kingdom are already on their second generation of body-worn video cameras, but here in Scotland they have not been rolled out routinely and Police Scotland describes the equipment that has already been issued as basic. Even supermarket workers now have such cameras. Why do not all our police officers?

Keith Brown

I know that Murdo Fraser has been in the Parliament a long time, but I am not sure whether he is sufficiently aware of the fact that the purchase of capital equipment and, in fact, any equipment is for the SPA and the police force—the chief constable himself—to undertake according to the priorities that they see.

I do not deny that I would like to see more body-worn cameras among the police, mainly because they can, in the end, reduce costs and crime. I fully support that, but it will be a question of resources and how the police and the SPA prioritise that spend. The fundamental point is that, if we start off with the priority of ensuring that police officers are well remunerated and well supported by having the right number of officers, we start from a good basis.

The SPA is currently considering body-worn cameras, and it will have our support in ensuring that as many officers as possible have the equipment as we move forward.

I add my personal thanks and good wishes to Sir Iain Livingstone on his retirement.

That concludes this item of business.