Meeting date: Thursday, September 12, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 12 September 2019
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Drug Deaths, Portfolio Question Time, Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (Post-legislative Scrutiny Reports), Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Drug Deaths
- Portfolio Question Time
- Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (Post-legislative Scrutiny Reports)
- Decision Time
Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (Post-legislative Scrutiny Reports)
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-18818, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on post-legislative scrutiny reports on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. I invite all members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.14:50
The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 came into force on 1 April 2013. It is one of the largest public sector reforms that has been undertaken since devolution.
Given the five-year anniversary of the creation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the media attention that the reforms have attracted, the Justice Committee decided that it was an opportune time to embark on post-legislative scrutiny of the act.
I am pleased to speak on behalf of the committee on its findings in relation to establishing whether the policy intentions of the 2012 act are being met and assessing how the legislation is working in practice.
In relation to the police, the 2012 act abolished Scotland’s eight police forces and replaced them with Police Scotland, a single national force, and the Scottish Police Authority, an oversight body. The main driver for reform was the need to make efficiencies in the face of spending reductions. The financial memorandum that was issued with the bill estimated that the single police service would achieve efficiency savings of £1.1 billion by 2026. However, that estimate was based only on an outline business case—OBC—and not on a fully developed set of costings.
In addition, the estimate failed to take into account the day-to-day challenges facing the police service, or the demands on the service as the responders of first and last resort. Unison described the basis of the OBC as “over-simplistic” and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents described the estimated savings as “unrealistic”. Consequently, costs were underestimated and the committee found that the financial memorandum was not suitably robust. Despite that, Police Scotland has achieved accumulative cost savings of £330 million, due, in part, to the successful reduction in duplication of support services. The committee considers that that is to be commended.
Another benefit of reform is Police Scotland’s ability to provide more equal access to specialist support and national capacity across Scotland. That is demonstrated by the way that it has transformed how it investigates domestic abuse, rape and other sexual crimes. During a recent visit to Galashiels police station, the committee heard about how it had requested, and received, helicopter assistance to trace a missing person. However, realistically, although local areas are able to bid for specialist resources such as counter-terrorism support, there is no guarantee that such resources will be available. The committee therefore concluded that the system is not perfect, but that, by and large, major resources that are held at national level are available and able to be provided locally if they are needed.
Another area where savings have been made is in the reduction in police staff numbers. The committee heard that the number of civilian staff posts has been reduced by more than 2,000. An unintended consequence of that decision is that, instead of being on the front line—as the public might expect—police officers are backfilling many of those vacated staff posts. That concern was raised during the passage of the bill and, six years on, it has still to be addressed. Staff unions in the police service told the committee of real concerns about staffing numbers versus the demands that are placed on staff. The committee therefore welcomed Police Scotland’s commitment to carry out an analysis of demand data in early 2019, and we look forward to seeing the results of that analysis.
The Scottish Police Authority has a dual role of oversight and maintenance of the police service. The Auditor General has identified issues with regard to poor use of public money, leadership, governance and decision-making processes at the SPA. In evidence, a lack of engagement and transparency was raised, as were concerns about the influence of Scottish ministers in the appointment of the board chair and members. The committee accepts that there should be wide-ranging engagement on the appointments process and considers that all options should be explored. The SPA chair outlined a number of measures that are being taken to address those concerns.
The committee recommended that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority continue to focus on procedures and practices to avoid any repeat of previous issues, and on demonstrating that they have achieved the required culture change in leadership and governance. The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing was therefore disappointed to hear prior to summer recess that police unions and staff associations had been excluded from any pre-budget decision-making processes. Although there have been some improvements in governance and accountability, there is clearly still some way to go. Therefore, the committee looks forward to the outcome of the review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Scottish Police Authority in fulfilling its core role.
It is essential that a robust complaints-handling system is in place—one with independent oversight and in which the public, police officers and staff have confidence. That is a key area for improvement, as it is evident that the handling of police complaints, including Police Scotland’s discretion in deciding how complaints are categorised and investigated, is not working as the 2012 act intended.
The committee’s announcement of its intention to carry out post-legislative scrutiny was followed by the Government’s announcement that it was commissioning Dame Elish Angiolini’s review. That has been very much welcomed by the committee. Her interim report, which was published before summer recess, provides an opportunity for the Government to make changes quickly to the handling of police complaints. In response, the cabinet secretary has said that he was aware that public confidence in the handling of police complaints had been “dented”, and he has undertaken to consider what could be done in the short term. The committee asks the cabinet secretary to provide details today of the changes that he intends to introduce.
The 2012 act intended to strengthen the connection between the police service and local authorities. The act provides for more involvement from local authorities in policing decisions. The committee believes that, although there are good examples of local partnership working, the policy intention has not been met consistently around the 32 local authorities, and more consistency around the country is needed.
In concluding the committee’s comments about police reform, I note that the situation is improving after a very challenging start—particularly for the SPA—but that more remains to be done.
I turn to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which is now a single service.
Audit Scotland found that the fire service had managed the 2013 merger of the eight fire and rescue services effectively and continued to deliver emergency and prevention services while progressing a complex and ambitious programme of reform.
Currently, the fire service is on target to meet, and potentially exceed, the efficiency savings that were estimated in the financial memorandum. That is partly due to the reduction in duplication of its support services. It has maintained front-line services, with all 356 stations remaining open.
Less encouraging was the evidence the committee heard that current staffing issues present a risk to the fire service achieving transformation. Audit Scotland described the current model and contractual framework for the retained duty service as not “fit for purpose”.
Four out of five of Scotland’s fire stations rely wholly or in part on retained or volunteer firefighters. Some of the issues with the current system include the low basic pay of less than £3,000; the fact that, depending on where they are based, retained firefighters can be expected to cover a large area, which they might be unwilling or unable to do; and the expansion of the role of firefighters, which presents a particular challenge for retained and volunteer firefighters. The changing role of firefighters includes the provision of emergency medical assistance, which increases their responsibilities and training time commitment.
The fire service states that it is a priority to resolve the retained firefighter system; in fact, it is a fundamental issue that needs to be resolved. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Scottish Government considers how to address the issue and, in an effort to see some progress, it asks the minister to provide an update.
The 2012 act aimed to strengthen the relationship between the fire service and local authorities, enabling greater input from councillors and others to shape their local fire service. Engagement and working collaboratively are key priorities for the fire service that have helped it to meet the policy aim of strengthening local relationships and scrutiny. Nonetheless, further improvements could be made, first, to ensure that local impacts are considered when decisions on changes to national policy are made and, secondly, to provide greater autonomy to local senior officers to enable them to respond to priorities in their local areas.
The single police and fire services both plan significant changes to how they work, which will need to be managed, with officers and staff fully involved in the changes. Increased demands and expected efficiency savings, together with budgets that are set by the Government and the lack of resources that affect fleet, estate and police numbers, remain challenging issues. It is essential that these vital services are funded to meet those demands, and the Justice Committee will continue to keep the reforms under review.
That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Justice Committee’s 9th Report 2019 (Session 5), Report on post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 - The Police Service of Scotland (SP Paper 501), and its 10th Report 2019 (Session 5) Report on post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 - The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SP Paper 502).15:01
I thank the convener for her opening remarks and the Justice Committee’s members and clerks for their report on this important issue. I am looking forward to a very constructive, although in some respects challenging, debate.
The debate will consider the ground-breaking Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act, which was passed by Parliament in June 2012 following detailed scrutiny. We recognised that the act would underpin the most significant public service reform in Scotland since devolution in a bold move to protect crucial public services from the impact of unprecedented cuts to public spending. As importantly, the act provided a clear and modern purpose and principles for both the Police Service of Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
I appreciate the committee’s robust scrutiny of the implementation of the 2012 act and the evidence that it took from a diverse range of stakeholders. The committee’s report recognises significant achievements, including the creation of national capabilities in policing and fire and rescue, which have improved the service to communities—and, as the convener said, it also reminds us where the challenges still exist.
Bringing together legacy arrangements into single services with appropriate governance and oversight has been challenging. However, reports that have been published by an independent consortium, led by the Scottish institute for policing research, demonstrate plausible and credible evidence of progress towards achieving the three long-term aims of reform.
Furthermore, Audit Scotland’s 2015 review of fire reform concluded that the merger of the eight fire and rescue services was managed effectively, the performance of the SFRS was improving and the move to a national organisation had enhanced scrutiny and challenge.
The first six years of the two national services have included many achievements and milestones.
Audit Scotland did acknowledge those things, but it also pointed out that the police were severely hampered by a capital backlog. Can the cabinet secretary comment on what the Government will do to ensure that the police can make the capital investments that they need?
Daniel Johnson makes a good and important point, on which he has pressed me before in the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. In the previous spending round, the chief constable, the SPA and others made pleas for additional capital funding, and this Government stepped up to the plate with an increase of 52 per cent, which is a £12 million uplift.
We hear from Police Scotland, the SPA, the Scottish Police Federation and many others that there is a need for further investment in the fleet, the estate and information and communications technology. I am open minded on that and will listen to those organisations—my door is open to them. My discussions on the issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work will take place in private, but the point about capital and the share of capital versus resource for Police Scotland is well worth making.
I have talked about one of the challenges for Police Scotland, but I want to focus a little on some of its achievements, which are hugely important. The evidence that the committee took in that regard was stark. The chief constable was clear that he thinks that, without reform, Scotland would not be as safe. Policing services in Scotland have been protected and improved and duplication has been reduced. One of the most powerful testimonies on the achievements of Police Scotland and the creation of a national single service was from Rape Crisis Scotland, which noted:
“the move to a single police force has transformed the way rape and other sexual crimes are investigated in Scotland.”
The organisation highlighted greater consistency in training and the use of specialist officers.
We now have more officers than at any time under the previous Administration. In the absence of sufficient United Kingdom Government funding, the Scottish Government has committed an additional £17 million this year to ensure that police officer numbers are sufficient to manage the impact of a no-deal European Union exit, if that should occur. The current number of police officers is 17,259, which is an increase of 1,025.
I presume that the cabinet secretary accepts that 400 of those officers are funded directly by the UK Government and, I think, 300 are directly funded by our hard-pressed local councils.
The funding comes from the Scottish Government, although I accept what the member says in relation to some of the officers. On the UK Government’s track record on police numbers, the majority of the officers that it funds are in forces in England and Wales, and the picture in that regard is not quite rosy. The UK Government has reduced officer numbers by around 20,000. I note with great interest that the current Prime Minister says that he will reverse that, but it is just that—a reversal of the cut of 20,000 officers. Although I applaud the fact that funding is coming from the UK Government and local authorities, it is fair to say that the Scottish Government has stepped up to the plate by protecting police revenue funding and increasing capital funding, which has allowed us to have the 1,025 additional officers compared to the position that we inherited in 2007.
That does not mean that we are taking our eye off the ball. It is important that we continue to be challenged and pressed on police funding and additional resources. We will of course continue to listen to such calls and I will continue to engage closely with the chair of the SPA and the chief constable.
In talking about achievements, it is important to mention that Police Scotland has safely and securely delivered a number of major international events. Many members will have enjoyed the 2014 Commonwealth games and will be looking forward to major international events in which the police will play a role, such as the 26th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is coming to Glasgow.
We will continue to protect Police Scotland’s revenue funding and we will continue to value our police officers. The Scottish Police Federation described the recent 6.5 per cent pay deal for officers as the best in two decades. We will continue to invest in the capital side. We will listen to the concerns on that and ensure that we fund the police appropriately.
The committee convener mentioned Dame Elish Angiolini’s interim report, which was published in June and which was a helpful and weighty report with a number of recommendations. The Justice Committee has challenged me and the Government to act quickly and to consider what can be prioritised. There are a number of priority areas that the partners can look at. One is the issue of clarifying what happens with complaints against those who are no longer serving in the police, which the convener pressed me on at the committee. I assure her that I am actively considering what legislative vehicle we can find to bring forward measures in that regard in the current parliamentary session, and sooner rather than later. We are constrained, because the parliamentary timetable is very full, but there may potentially be a way to do that by piggybacking on another legislative vehicle.
I can give the convener more detail in writing, if she wants. I confirm that the partners involved—the Scottish Police Authority , Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and others—will meet regularly to discuss how we take forward Dame Elish Angiolini’s review. Yesterday, I spoke to the chief constable about that, and I was due to speak to Dame Elish Angiolini today, but unfortunately that meeting had to be moved.
I will focus my concluding remarks on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. At the beginning of my speech, I should have said that the Minister for Community Safety has given her apologies. She would have liked to have been here, but unfortunately she is not feeling well and has had to head home.
The SFRS is the largest fire and rescue service in the UK. Although the number of incidents of fire and fire raising has gone down over the years, incidents such as last year’s Glasgow School of Art fire and the huge wildfire in Moray earlier this year remind us of the need to ensure that our fire service is funded and resourced appropriately, and of the sheer bravery of fire teams, who are willing to put themselves in danger to assist others. I thank our fire officers for all that they do for us.
The committee’s report rightly highlights that the SFRS has successfully worked through a major transition over the past six years. The 2012 act has facilitated the creation of a number of initiatives, operations and ways of working, such as increasing access to specialist equipment and expertise, which would simply not have been possible without the unified service.
Protecting front-line services is our priority for 2019-20. The budget provides an additional £5.5 million to allow the SFRS to invest in service transformation. I will say more about that in my closing speech at the end of the debate. That money is in addition to the increase in the spending capacity of the service by £15.5 million in 2018-19.
It is worth putting on the record and reminding colleagues across the chamber that, although funding challenges still exist, the Scottish Government will continue to push the UK Government to pay back the VAT. Police Scotland and the SFRS paid out £175 million in VAT, and I will continue to press for that substantial amount of money to be paid back. I hope that colleagues will join us in that call.
I have always acknowledged that reform is an on-going process. Change on such a scale is almost unprecedented, and there were always going to be challenges. However, the general sentiment from the committee’s report is that we have managed to overcome the teething problems and difficult challenges that were encountered in the first years of the reform. We are in a good place, but there could be challenges ahead, so there is certainly no complacency from the Government. I look forward to the rest of the debate.
As members might have surmised, there is some time in hand, so I will be gentle with time, to a degree.15:12
I am pleased to have the opportunity to open for the Scottish Conservatives in this debate on the Justice Committee’s reports on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. Credit must go to the clerks for the report’s production, and to the witnesses, in what I found to be a fascinating and highly informative inquiry.
The history of both services is well rehearsed in the reports, with the underlying principle being that the 2012 act would replace the eight police forces and the eight fire brigades with a single police service and a single fire service.
Underlying the reforms were three fundamental principles: protection and improvement of local services by stopping duplication while not cutting front-line services; creation of more equal access to specialist support and national capacity; and strengthening of the connection between services and communities. It was right to ask whether those aims have been met. Perhaps more important is that we need then to ask whether lessons are being, and have been, learned.
First, I will deal with the police report, which examined a number of issues with the governance structure. The report says that both the current chief constable and the chair told the committee that
“in the early days of reform, the governance arrangements did not operate properly”,
and that the SPA suffered from a lack of clarity of purpose. That led, in 2017, following sustained criticism around governance and transparency, to the third chair in four years stepping down.
Then, last year, the chief executive changed again, which was not without controversy. Amid that turmoil, Chief Constable Phil Gormley resigned, and wrote in his resignation statement that events of November 2017, involving the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, had made it impossible for him to carry on. However, the report is clear that the present chief constable, the SPA chair and the cabinet secretary all feel that the 2012 act does not need to change in relation to governance. The committee broadly agreed, noting that matters had been
“unduly affected by personalities”.
The committee noted the need for a culture change, which is why it is somewhat concerning that the current chief executive of the SPA, who has been in post for less than a year, is leaving. Such things cannot be predicted, and of course we wish Mr Grover well, but the lack of stability is not helpful.
I am keen to pick up on the issue of police officers backfilling police staff roles, which was raised during stage 3 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill. The report notes that it remains a live issue. That is hardly surprising, because police and fire services have, reportedly, lost 800 staff since 2013. I note from Dr Kath Murray’s submission that staff roles were reduced by 40 per cent between 2010 and 2018. That is bound to have had an impact: it is notable that more than half of police divisions in Scotland have fewer officers on the front line since the 2013 merger. That is having an impact right now.
First, I say that of course we should keep an eye on staffing, but does Liam Kerr agree that one of the purposes of the 2012 act was to reduce duplication by merging the eight forces into one?
Secondly, does Liam Kerr agree with Rape Crisis Scotland that with the creation of a single service, we have national capability, so although they are not on the front line, by providing a service nationally, officers are providing a service to local agencies in investigation of rape, domestic abuse and so on?
I understand the cabinet secretary’s points. Of course the 2012 act was about reducing duplication, and yes, there are national services. However, we need to remember that if we remove officers from the front line, that will have an impact because, at the end of the day, they are the first point of contact for many people.
My point is that that is having a serious impact on the officers and the staff themselves. I know that Oliver Mundell will talk about the local impact in detail, but I hear from sources in Aberdeen that the ability of police in Aberdeen to crack down on drug-dealing in the area might be being compromised by there being insufficient numbers to cover Offshore Europe’s conference and the Queen’s court at Balmoral, for example, as well as patrols. That has to be of concern—I am sure that the cabinet secretary agrees—especially with leave being taken over the summer months.
That brings me to page 63 of the report, which deals with, inter alia, the needs of staff and officers both during and following the reform process. Just last week, Police Scotland’s chaplain wrote to the cabinet secretary to highlight that underresourcing has left officers “tired, frustrated and depressed”, and requested
“better resourcing and more officers employed”.
The Scottish Police Federation says that officers are “run ragged” and cannot even go for a toilet break,
“never mind to have a sandwich or a cup of tea or coffee.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 23 October 2018; c 26.]
I think—I am certain that the cabinet secretary will agree—that that is no way to treat people who put their lives on the line daily to protect us.
Gordon Lindhurst will speak to the news that at least £70 million extra is apparently required in order to avoid a further workforce reduction of 350 people, and that the police capital budget has been cut by £56 million. That last figure is especially concerning, because the submission from Police Scotland to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which was mentioned by Daniel Johnson in an intervention, shows that only 43 per cent of the police’s capital funding requirements are being met.
The SPF says that that is why that police are driving “barely legal” vehicles, and it is why the federation reports that Oban police station is “unfit for human habitation”. Maurice Corry will deal with digital, data and information and communications technology themes but, in brief, we know that the Scottish National Party has failed to fund the crucial technology upgrades that police officers need.
The UK Government has pledged hundreds of millions of pounds to boost the number of front-line officers. That will lead to Barnett consequentials of about £80 million. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will confirm in his closing speech whether he is demanding that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work pass on those consequentials to the police in the forthcoming budget.
I have little time left. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has been somewhat less high profile in the inquiry. There are good reasons for that, in so far as the report on the fire service shows that the SFRS merger has not been beset by challenges such as the police have faced. Credit for that should go to the people who were involved in the merger. In fact, the report concludes that
“the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Board has managed the merger effectively and demonstrated good governance and management of the Service.”
However, again, in making sense of looking back, we must look forward. The Fire Brigades Union says that there are 917 fewer firefighters than there were in 2010. Questions need to be answered—perhaps the cabinet secretary could do so in his closing speech—about whether the reduction will continue and, if so, at what point it will become challenging for the service to continue to discharge the duties that it performs so well at present.
Margaret Mitchell raised some interesting points that Audit Scotland flagged up, on which it would also be good to hear from the cabinet secretary.
I commend the committee’s reports to the chamber—not only for what they tell us about the process of the previous years, but for what we can all learn for the future.15:20
It gives me great pleasure to open the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour. I thank the members of the Justice Committee, the witnesses and the clerks for the amount of work that they have, clearly, put into the process. It is clear from reading both reports that a lot of detail has been examined and that serious consideration and thought have been given to the conclusions. I hope that the Government will take the reports seriously.
I should say at the outset that the purpose of the process has been to consider the impact of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. It is essential that Parliament undertakes such consideration. I was involved in the debates and discussions that took place on the moves to a single police force and a single fire service ahead of the 2011 election, and during consideration of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Labour supported those moves in the belief that they would lead to an improvement in services, and to more efficiently run organisations. It is important that we have carried out post-legislative scrutiny to review how successful implementation and operation of the 2012 act have been, and to see what lessons can be learned. It is clear that there are issues on which to pick up in relation to both processes.
Liam Kerr touched on governance: it is clear that there have been governance issues relating to the SPA. There have been changes in personnel and there has been controversy about the appointment process. Some of the processes have been tightened up under the new SPA chair, Susan Deacon. In addition, questions have been asked about the role of the Scottish ministers in relation to the position of Chief Constable Gormley. The lesson to be learned is that there is a lack of clarity on the procedures that underpin the governance arrangements of the SPA, and on the role of the Scottish ministers. The Government would be well advised to take that lesson on board.
A big issue that runs through both reports is the need for adequate budgets to support—
On budgets, does James Kelly agree that the UK Government should fully refund Police Scotland with the £125 million that it paid in VAT between 2013 and 2018?
That issue has already been addressed by Scottish Labour.
Will Mr Kelly take an intervention?
No, I will not take another intervention.
I want to address how Police Scotland is funded. It is a matter of concern that, in his evidence, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr indicated that there was a deficit of £35.7 million, which could lead to a shortfall of 700 officers. The Government would do well to heed that warning. It feeds into the issues of front-line police numbers and backfilling. Over the years, Unison and others have made the point that officers have been taken from the front line to backfill support and other posts. Ultimately, the concern is that the service that the police provide in protecting the public might be crucially undermined.
One of the big issues that the committee looked at was information technology. I think that even the Government would acknowledge that in the police service IT has been a real challenge. In 2013, a new system—i6—was specced out at a cost of £46 million. Ultimately, the contract with Accenture had to be terminated because of failures of delivery against spec and a breakdown of the whole process.
The committee made the point that the financial memorandum underestimated the cost that would be required for information technology. In respect of where we are now, it is a matter of concern that the Auditor General for Scotland was not able to give proper assurance that there would be sufficient IT capability in place to meet Police Scotland’s IT needs. In any modern public service, especially the police, IT is really important, so there are clearly issues that need to be addressed.
I am conscious that I am running out of time.
I can give you an extra minute to make your comments. I am being very gentle with you, Mr Kelly.
I appreciate that, Presiding Officer.
Briefly, on the fire service, it is interesting to look at the position of the Fire Brigades Union, which was very supportive of and vocal about the move to a single service, back in 2012. It saw clear advantages to that. However, in a submission ahead of this debate, the FBU has pointed out that there are now 648 fewer firefighters. The concern is that there is not the same front-line capability as there was previously. That raises the question of whether the move to a single service has achieved the objective of maintaining and improving the front-line service.
When there is a move to a single service from multiple organisations or sub-organisations around the country, there will always be a tension between centralisation and local control. That was one of the big debates in 2012, and there are still some issues for the fire service to address. Yesterday, during justice portfolio questions, Lewis Macdonald raised the issue of gold commanders, who are responsible if there is a catastrophic incident. The three commanders are currently based at Cambuslang, and if there was a catastrophic incident in the north-east one of the commanders would be moved to Dundee. However, that is far away from Aberdeen and the North Sea, where there might be an incident on an oil rig, so there are still issues that need to be flushed out.
The reports that the committee has brought to the chamber today are important. It is right that we reflect on and learn the lessons from the move to single services. There are number of issues around governance, budgets and local accountability that the Government needs to look into: I hope that it will take on board some of the crucial points that the committee has made.15:28
I concur with James Kelly’s comments that post-legislative scrutiny is very important. It is unfortunate that, due to work demands, we do not get the opportunity to do more of it in Parliament. I pay tribute to the people who gave evidence to the committee and, as ever, to the committee clerks.
It is often said that the issues that beset the police, particularly around governance and operations, were not replicated in the fire service. Although there is a lot to be positive about in the fire service, it is certainly the view of the FBU that there is further work to be done. For instance, the fact that it has taken five years to standardise terms and conditions, including the arrangements for flood work, indicates that everything has not gone smoothly.
The FBU has recirculated a brief that it previously provided to the Justice Committee, which says:
“We are willing to negotiate on expanding the role of firefighters, as long as this is negotiated in good faith.”
There is no point in rehearsing the previous problems, but it is key that people have trust in engaging with the process. Much has been made of the challenges of the proportion of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service that relies on the retained service, but we have also heard that it is largely due to social changes that it has been difficult to recruit people. It is important to have the trade unions on board.
In my own part of the world, the Highlands and Islands, the enhancements to the training facilities in the islands, which mean that individuals do not have to leave the islands to undertake specialist training, coupled with the recruitment of more middle managers have been a real boon and have helped the situation.
I will comment on the section of the 2012 act that relates to human rights. When the legislation was going through Parliament, I was pleased to secure agreement to an amendment to provide that the oath sworn by police officers would be to uphold human rights. That is important. The committee heard from Diego Quiroz, from the Scottish Human Rights Commission, who said that human rights should be explicit throughout the 2012 act and throughout Police Scotland’s processes and structures, particularly
“policy and strategic decision making; operational planning and deployment; training and guidance; and investigation, monitoring and scrutiny”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 6 November 2018; c 36.]
There were well-documented challenges in that respect, not least with stop and search and the nationwide approach that was taken to that, although it was something that could have been more localised. The inquiry that looked into stop and search in Scotland has brought about a situation that may not be entirely to my liking but that has certainly stabilised matters. I commend John Scott for leading that inquiry. Key to its report was the comment by John Scott that the police are the front-line defenders of citizens’ human rights. They should guard that role jealously.
That role has been put under threat by the way in which Police Scotland has approached issues such as armed policing and, more recently, cyberkiosks, which are seen as highly intrusive and were introduced in the face of little evidence. Of course, the Justice Committee and all its members wish to ensure that the Scottish police service has all the resources to tackle organised crime and keep pace with the technology that organised crime has access to. However, it must be proportionate. The potential for collateral damage associated with that proposal is something that we should be very aware of and continue to monitor.
That may take us on to issues such as facial recognition. When Police Scotland was asked simple questions about that, it was disappointing that it was unable to answer them. I hope that we will get an answer from the cabinet secretary on that issue today. The same applies to the counter-corruption unit and the little-known parts of policing where intelligence is gathered covertly. It is absolutely essential that the integrity of the police service is not brought into question, particularly when it is such a large organisation.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission also said that section 2(3) of the 2012 act states that the SPA must
“try to carry out its functions in a way which is proportionate”
but that it would like the words “try to” to be removed from the provision, meaning that the authority must carry out its functions in a proportionate way. I understand that the cabinet secretary told the committee that he would meet the Scottish Human Rights Commission to consider that recommendation. I know that he will engage on that subject with an open mind.
I want to talk about the C-word—centralisation—that often peppers our discussions. I will be parochial for a minute. One of the challenges when looking at legislation is to consider how the legislation has impacted on the operations of the day, and, in order to do that, a comparator is needed. Reflecting back, the single officer station that I used to occupy no longer exists, the section station where the sergeant was no longer exists and two other stations in that area no longer exist—that function was all centralised. It was centralised not by Police Scotland but by Northern Constabulary, and that situation is replicated across the country.
I understand why people talk about officer numbers and front-line numbers—as Mr Kerr did—but it is sometimes difficult to get a baseline to measure that, because it is not a comparison of like with like.
We do know that police demands are shaped by the legislation—for instance, the demands that are placed on the police due to domestic violence and the regard that Police Scotland, quite correctly, has in dealing with domestic violence. As the cabinet secretary said when he referred to Rape Crisis Scotland, there has been a transformation in that regard. I have said that in the past, and I will continue to say it.
Domestic violence work is resource intensive. The committee visited Forfar police station, where we met officers who are occupying space that, at one time, might have been occupied by uniformed officers—I accept that—but who were providing a function over a wider area and dealing with the pursuit of serial domestic abusers. That work is very labour intensive and very intelligence intensive, and it involves collaboration with the prosecution services. That might mean that there are officers off the street, but a very important function is being undertaken.
I think that people understand the centralisation—
Will the member take an intervention?
I do not necessarily dispute John Finnie’s point, but I presume that he will accept that the increased pressure and responsibility that is placed on those officers who remain on the front line is going to cause them significant challenges, which we have to be aware of.
Indeed, and I was just coming to that point. We have heard—most recently on the committee’s visit to Galashiels—that, if officers are called to a domestic abuse incident in the morning, it takes up their entire shift. On a previous visit, we heard that, if two uniformed officers are deployed on such a case, they will be answering to five officers in an office who will be doing all the behind-the-scenes work. It is an inevitable consequence of policing that the resource can come from only one place—the front line—so I absolutely accept the pressures that are on front-line officers. However, perhaps that has to be balanced against some of the benefits that come from having those specialist and more widely accepted services.
I do not know how much longer I have, Presiding Officer.
I do not know how much more members in the chamber want. I am not putting it to the vote. [Laughter.] You can have another minute, if you wish.
Thank you very much.
I do not hear anybody sighing—they are being very kind to you, Mr Finnie. Please, go ahead.
Aye, it is a good day.
There will always be challenges, such as the challenges that exist around the capital budget in relation to the estate. By ensuring that, in consolidating into two central services, we do not replicate things eight times or, in many instances, 10 times, we will have liberated some buildings that have fallen into disrepair. I would like there to be no reputational damage to Police Scotland and to ensure that we dispose of those buildings quickly. I recently went through a village in the Highlands in which the police station is empty and has been for some time. Given the housing lists, it would be good to ensure that such buildings are disposed of.
Likewise, we want roadworthy vehicles, but let us not base their replacement on an arbitrary figure on a milometer. We should replace them when we need to replace them rather than give the fleet companies more money than they already have.
I will leave it there.
Humza Yousaf rose—
Mr Finnie has left it there, cabinet secretary.
As members can tell, I have about 15 minutes in hand, so I can be quite easy going, which makes a change.15:38
I welcome James Kelly to his new position and look forward to working with him on the Justice Committee and on the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. I pay tribute to Daniel Johnson by thanking him for his contribution to both committees, and I wish him well in his new post on the Education and Skills Committee.
I also thank colleagues, clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and all those who gave both written and oral evidence during the course of what was a lengthy inquiry. John Finnie is absolutely right: all too rarely do we have the opportunity to undertake post-legislative scrutiny. The fact that we have done it on an act of such importance and on such a contentious piece of legislation is entirely appropriate.
Members in the chamber will probably not need to be reminded that my party consistently opposed the centralisation that lies at the heart of the 2012 act. However, the committee was right to draw a distinction between the process in relation to the police force and the process in relation to the fire and rescue service. The conclusions that were reached in that regard are entirely fair. Centralisation is not without its challenges, but a number of benefits came through the process.
John Finnie was right to identify some of the additional investment in facilities in Orkney and other parts of the Highlands and Islands. It has been a long time coming, but it is very welcome for all that.
However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats repeatedly voiced our concerns about the loss of accountability and transparency in policing. We warned of the risks of concentrating power in the hands of a few individuals and moving towards a one-size-fits-all approach to policing. At every stage, the Government rejected those concerns and ignored the warnings. As a result, it was slow to act on the concerns about the loss of local accountability, which the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, dismissed. Yet, in an interview at the weekend, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone acknowledged the high-handed way in which decisions were taken immediately after centralisation.
There can be no question but that, under Sir Stephen House, the so-called Strathclydisation of policing removed discretion from local officers across the country and undermined the ethos of community policing. Again, contrary to Kenny MacAskill’s adamant stance, during our inquiry, evidence from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents bore out the scale and complexity of centralisation, which the Government had underestimated.
I appreciate that Liam McArthur has to make that point, but he is fighting battles of the past. We agree with the current chief constable’s assessment that, if it were not for the reform of the service, we would not be as safe as we currently are.
I disagree with that. The Government has attempted to look at crime figures generally and at the trends of crime figures in Scotland and draw a direct causal link between police reform and the achievement of those outcomes. We see those trends across the UK, and they began before police centralisation.
The committee was right to acknowledge that the reform of specialised policing was necessary. That concentration of specialised resources did not require the creation of a single police force. During the course of our deliberations, the Justice Committee visited Norway. Norway’s model of policing has not created a single force but has delivered the specialisms that are necessary in modern policing.
Of course, it did not help that, in the early stages, the relationship between Police Scotland and the SPA was dysfunctional. As well as the unedifying spectacle of a public turf war that fatally compromised the effective oversight of what Police Scotland was doing, Dr Ali Malik, in evidence to the committee, said that
“the SPA was mostly reactive, and the public accountability of the police was led by the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish press.”
It did not help that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice at the time and the Government in which he served were so tin-eared. Public alarm at armed officers being deployed in routine duties was brushed aside as an operational matter. The justice secretary similarly dismissed as scaremongering concerns over industrial levels of stop and search, including of children under the age of eight, concerns over the centralisation of call handling and a lack of support for the staff in those centres. In each instance, the justice secretary was wrong and subsequently was forced to take action. However, in the case of the call handling, that was not before the tragic events that saw Lamara Bell and John Yuill left for dead at the side of the M9.
We are now told that those problems are in the past, that things are different, that the personalities have changed and that a new, more considered approach has been ushered in. I accept that Humza Yousaf, Iain Livingstone and Susan Deacon have a different outlook from that of their predecessors. However, it is not unreasonable to view the assurances that are offered now in the context of those that were offered in the past. The recent example of the botched merger of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland is a case in point. There was no detailed business case for it; questions and concerns that BTP officers and staff raised were never taken properly into account; and requests at least to delay, if not to abandon, the plans fell on deaf ears.
Given Liam McArthur’s view on civil liberties, does he not share my concern that the transport police service of 220 officers, who can effect arrests, enter people’s premises and crave warrants, has no public accountability?
During the evidence that we took, that concern was not raised by any of the stakeholders or the public at large. The service was working effectively. For political reasons, as the independent inspector made apparent, it was merged into Police Scotland without a detailed business case. Again, that concern was met with allegations of scaremongering. Meanwhile, the recent issues surrounding the proposed roll-out of so-called cyberkiosks exposed the need for Parliament to continue to play a role in robustly scrutinising the decisions that Police Scotland makes and the oversight that SPA performs.
Susan Deacon, for whom I have the utmost respect, is due considerable credit for many of the reforms that she has introduced since she took over as the chair of the SPA. However, it was disappointing to hear her call into question, at a recent SPA board meeting, the role of the Parliament and MSPs. On cyberkiosks, she is reported to have said, in May:
“We have now received more correspondence asking even more questions of detail about this particular programme. I really don’t think that that is desirable or sustainable.”
She added that every hour that officers and SPA board members spend explaining their decisions to MSPs is an hour when officers and board members are not doing their main jobs.
I make no apology for the way in which this Parliament and the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, in particular, have discharged their responsibilities. The failure to address from the outset fundamental issues around human rights, privacy and transparency in relation to the roll-out of cyberkiosks is recognised by Police Scotland, and that change of heart had nothing to do with the SPA, which happily waved the project through unchallenged, without raising concerns. I think that the public expect the Parliament to continue to perform its role and not to allow Police Scotland and the SPA to mark their own homework.
The other key area in which promises and assurances that were made in the early stages still cast a long shadow is the budget. As Audit Scotland has said, and as witnesses from Police Scotland to Unison testified, the promised savings and efficiencies from centralisation have failed to materialise. As Unison told us, the claims were based on “over-simplistic reasoning”.
Some 1,700 civilian staff have lost their jobs, and buildings and equipment have deteriorated to a point at which they present a danger to officers and staff. The sub-committee heard at its lunchtime meeting today that there is every likelihood that the situation will get worse. The IT system is not fit for purpose and leaves police struggling to perform their duties and keep pace with the increasing sophistication of cyber-enabled crime. All those concerns have been graphically laid bare by the SPF and others over recent months and have been a focus of the sub-committee’s deliberations, including today.
Will the member take an intervention?
Yes, I will.
Generous though I am, there are limits, and you should be winding up. Ms Mackay, you will get a little extra time in your speech.
I am terribly sorry, Presiding Officer.
I have great respect for the current justice secretary, chief constable and SPA chair, who have undoubtedly made progress in addressing some of the more shambolic consequences of the centralisation of policing. Staff, too, deserve credit for keeping things going and, as best they can, mitigating the damaging impact of the centralising reforms.
However, given the police’s extraordinary powers as a single national force, the exercise of those powers should be subject to unparalleled scrutiny. Regrettably, Scottish Liberal Democrats still believe that the centralisation, which has concentrated power in the hands of a limited number of individuals, is unhealthy and unnecessary in meeting the needs of modern policing.
In the open debate, I can be a little generous, although the extra time is ebbing away.15:47
It is great to hear that you can be generous, Presiding Officer. We usually have to get our speeches right on the minute when you are in the chair.
No, no—I have some time in hand. I am keeping you informed—
No, no, I know—
Mr MacGregor, bear with me and sit down a minute. I would not want to disappoint you. The clerk tells me that we have nine and a half minutes in hand. Exciting days.
Thank you again, Presiding Officer—
Excuse me, but all that time is not for you. You are not getting nine and a half minutes. That is information for the team here.
I understood that.
It is right that the Justice Committee was able to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, as all members said. That work is another example of this Parliament getting on with the day job of scrutiny, while we witness the debacle and assault on democracy that is going on in London.
The bringing together of the eight legacy forces into one was a significant change. In our various evidence sessions, it was pleasing to hear witnesses generally talking about positive changes. For example, the Scottish Police Authority chair, Susan Deacon, who made herself available to MSPs for questioning, said:
“the reforms were absolutely the right direction of travel to choose. I think that the country is better for it.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 30 October 2018; c 4.]
The public recognise that the changes have been positive. The statistics show that the majority of adults believe that the police are doing a good or excellent job in their area. That cannot be hard for MSPs to understand. It is certainly not hard for me to understand.
The police in my area are very responsive to local issues, and are always on hand to attend meetings or provide feedback. Just a couple of week ago, we were having some issues in Coatbridge town centre, so I pulled together a stakeholder meeting. Two police officers came, attended the whole meeting, reassured residents and others, and were part of the plan for moving forward that we put together. That is just one small example. I am sure that MSPs have examples from across their constituencies.
Since the Scottish Government first came to power, overall reported crime has dropped by 42 per cent, and people feel safer. I hear Liam McArthur’s point about linking the statistics to the change in the police service, but, by the same token, I would say that there is no evidence that those statistics are not linked the change.
Indeed, those things are contemporaneous, but the statistics are the same throughout the western world. Is their occurrence, wherever it may be in Europe, due to the creation of Police Scotland?
I do not think that the statistics are the same. Many of the statistics compare Scotland with England and Wales. For example, Scottish people have personally experienced less crime than those living in England and Wales, and non-sexual violent crime here is at the lowest level in almost 50 years.
I do not dispute with Daniel Johnson and Liam McArthur that perhaps the statistics are due to other factors. I am saying that they would need to provide evidence of that, and that we might find that it is a combination of both—of factors going on elsewhere and changes to the police service.
That is not to say that recommendations were not made for improvement and, as we have heard already, further information around budgets has come to the fore since our report on the police service was published. It is good to hear the cabinet secretary indicate that he will take on board our report’s recommendations.
I will concentrate on that report first. There was strong evidence from a number of witnesses that the police service has benefited greatly from the formation of Police Scotland. As a result of the forces being brought together, the service has been able to deploy specialist officers all across Scotland. The report noted that this was particularly beneficial in some cases, such as for victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse, to which a consistent approach is taken across the country. I cannot stress how powerful the evidence on that was when we heard from witnesses.
As well as allowing for the deployment of specialist officers, the merger has enabled Police Scotland to achieve a higher level of consistency in training. Officers are now trained in various areas. I remember that when people were speaking about BTP integration, the particularly strong point was made that officers would be trained across a number of police roles and functions.
It is important that we stand up in this chamber and thank the police. Just today, at the justice sub-committee, during pre-budget scrutiny, we had a discussion around the sectarian issues relating to marches that have taken place over recent weeks. It is important to remember that our police force has to respond to such incidents without prior warning. They deploy officers on the ground to keep us all safe, in response to those and other types of incidents. We must thank police officers, but I also urge the Government to take such situations into account when budgeting—a matter that is fresh from discussion at the sub-committee.
I will talk a wee bit about the report on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Generally speaking, the establishment of the Fire and Rescue Service has also been widely regarded as a success. As the committee convener said, Audit Scotland noted in its 2015 report that the consolidation of the eight services was “managed effectively”, and that the movement to a single national body had “enhanced the scrutiny” of the service, thus increasing its performance and effectiveness.
However, it is important that we learn lessons where we can and reflect on criticisms. Members will be aware—some have already referred to it—that the Fire Brigades Union has been vocal about its views of the Justice Committee report. The FBU has challenged the assertion that the 2012 act has been unambiguously good for Scotland. The FBU noted that although there has been a recent upturn, the overall number of firefighters has decreased since the 2012 act was passed. Perhaps worryingly, the FBU recognised that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service does not compare favourably to services in other UK nations when it comes to gender diversity. As noted in its report, cuts in recruitment and an apparent lack of funding have led to some discontent amongst firefighters. We must take that on board.
I have some direct experience of that. My office is only a few hundred yards from Coatbridge fire station, which is locally referred to as Coatdyke fire station. Over the years since my election, several officers there, who are also constituents, have spoken to me about concerns relating to changes in staffing, shift patterns and the number of appliances. They have raised concerns of unease among the staff team and real worries that several fires on any one night across a huge geographical region could stretch the service too far. I think that other members have raised that point, because I see that the Presiding Officer is signalling to me.
To be fair, chief officers have always given me robust reassurance on those concerns but, as MSPs, our duty is to recognise when there is a disparity between what management says and what those on the ground say. That goes for services anywhere. I ask the Government to consider that and possibly even organise another visit to Coatdyke fire station. The previous minister did that, and I know that that went down very well.
Our police and fire services do a fantastic job—
No. You misunderstood. There is not nine and half minutes just for you.
I am summing up.
No. Just conclude. It is a wonderful speech.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Please sit down.15:56
We all owe a huge debt to our emergency services and all those, including the police, who stand ready at all hours and in all circumstances to come to the aid of others who need it. They are a huge credit to our country. As others have said, we should never lose sight of that when we are discussing the police or emergency services in our country.
In this debate, some seven years after the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 came into force, we should, of course, look carefully at whether the promises that were made when the legislation was passed have been fulfilled. There are areas of concern, some of which have arisen as a direct result of a lack of funding, forethought and long-term strategy.
In March, the Scottish Police Authority reported that the police force will face a mammoth £56 million funding gap in the next financial year. That has been compounded by Police Scotland’s warning earlier this week that it will require £70 million in further funding in the next financial year simply to maintain its current level of service. I am sure that the cabinet secretary agrees that continuing gaps in funding will undermine the stated intention that the measures that were taken in 2012 were to make the emergency services more financially viable.
I do not disagree with Gordon Lindhurst’s points on financial stability, but I am sure that he will accept two things. First, there is no doubt that some of that instability is because of recent political events. Police Scotland has had to increase the number of police officers to deal with a potential no-deal Brexit. Secondly, where there is a deficit, the Scottish Government will, of course, fund that deficit. Although there might be a deficit, we will always try to provide Police Scotland—as we have over the years—with certainty that that deficit will in no way mean that it will have to make drastic cuts to officer numbers or, indeed, any other part of the service.
Of course I accept that there are changing circumstances, which any Government or police force has to respond to, but that does not fully answer the point. For example, with the Prime Minister promising funding for 20,000 more police officers, there will be direct Barnett consequentials for Scotland. Is the cabinet secretary willing to commit that funding directly to our police force in Scotland to address the funding gap here? He may wish to come back to that question.
Issues of funding and numbers have, of course, been mirrored between the police and fire services—that has already been referred to. Last week, the Fire Brigades Union told us that there are now more than 900 fewer firefighters than there were a decade ago, and those who remain have experienced a real-terms pay cut. The police service shows a similarly gloomy picture, with seven of the 13 divisions across Scotland reporting a drop in front-line divisional officers since Police Scotland was created in 2013.
The systems that our services require to work with continue to be inadequate. Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, among others, has described the current IT systems as akin to “an analogue world”. The Scottish Government’s failed i6 programme lost the unified force almost £200 million in promised savings. As a result, the Police Federation itself told the committee in its written submission that preventative work is considered “a luxury” that it can scarcely afford. Just think about how we could improve our police presence in our communities across Scotland, including Edinburgh and Lothian, if we had proper operating systems in place to back up our police officers.
I agree with the member’s last point. Will he join me in welcoming the roll-out of the digital devices that will mean that officers will be able to do work when they are out rather than having to queue up at an outdated machine back at their office?
I agree with the member and I would join with him in welcoming any improvements in the equipment and services that the police have at their disposal. They no longer have to run to the nearest blue police box to place a call and, clearly, technology and technological improvements are important in ensuring that police officers can do their job well and in terms of the efficiency of our police force. As a generality, I agree with the principle and the approach that he is talking about.
However, that does not deal with some of the issues that I have been raising. The problem is the perception in our communities. Awareness of police presence in communities has fallen from 56 per cent when Police Scotland was created to just 40 per cent in 2017-18. Ultimately, too, total crime in Scotland is still on the rise, and two thirds of crime continues to go unreported—a figure that has not changed in more than a decade.
In the words of Unison police staff Scotland branch, the benefits of reform have been “grossly embellished”. It is difficult to see how the change has helped to deliver more effective emergency services across Scotland.
The cabinet secretary should accept that centralisation has made our communities feel that there is less of a police presence in the streets. Even the new chief constable accepted that Police Scotland was too centralised at the start and that it did not listen to communities, and he has said that it is now trying to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach, which is welcome.
I do not know how much time I am allowed to use of the nine and a half minutes that you mentioned, Presiding Officer.
You can speak for up to seven minutes.
Given the time constraints, I will not go into detail on a number of issues, such as the complaints investigation and handling procedures, which have been described as inadequate and confusing. No less than nine different bodies and a variety of internal and external processes can be involved in the handling of any one complaint, resulting in what the report described as a “disproportionate impact” on the effectiveness and morale of the service.
Other problems with the procedures have been identified, such as ambiguous definitions of what characterises simple misconduct or gross misconduct, and what Kate Frame, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, identified as the “inappropriate recording” of complaints.
A number of other issues have been identified as needing to be addressed, and I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to address them and will indicate in his closing remarks how he will try to do so.
I will conclude there.16:03
I add my thanks, on the record, to the Justice Committee clerks for their help and support in pulling together the committee’s reports and, of course, I thank the witnesses who gave evidence and sent submissions.
In 2012, Barack Obama was re-elected as the President of the USA, London held the Olympics and I was still in my 20s—2012 was not yesterday. Seven years ago, reforming the previous eight legacy police forces into a single national force was a transformation in how we deliver public services. However, as we have heard today, it did not come without its challenges. The context of reform, as acknowledged by the report, was the predicted fall in real terms of the Scottish Government’s budget. Indeed, as the report notes,
“the Government consistently stated that maintaining eight police forces was unsustainable and that without structural reform smaller forces, in particular, would be vulnerable to cuts in front-line services”.
Additionally, changes to the perceived traditional role of policing and accountability concerns, as highlighted by HMICS, compounded the case for reform.
There were undoubtedly challenges during the first few years, particularly, as Liam Kerr mentioned, between the role of the Scottish Police Authority and that of Police Scotland. However, in evidence from the SPA’s chair, Susan Deacon, the committee heard that a number of measures has been implemented since her appointment. As the convener mentioned, those include improvements to governance and scrutiny arrangements, an increase in SPA staff numbers and work to strengthen the board structure in the organisation. The committee therefore recommended that HMICS instruct an evaluation of those changes to ensure that the challenges have been appropriately addressed.
The policy memorandum to the original bill referenced an extra 1,000 police officers to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintain police officer numbers at 17,234.65. The most recent publication of police numbers, from June of this year, confirms that there are currently 17,259.306 police officers nationally.
In its submission to the committee, Police Scotland made clear that, prior to the 2012 act, access to specialist resources across the legacy forces was inconsistent. Police Scotland also stated that there is now more consistent access across the country, which has been particularly compelling in relation to crimes of a sexual nature. The latest national statistics show that 60 per cent of sexual crime and 76.1 per cent of violent crime was cleared up in 2017-18. As highlighted by the cabinet secretary, Rape Crisis Scotland commented:
“In our experience, the move to a single police force has transformed the way rape and other sexual crimes are investigated in Scotland. It has allowed far greater consistency of approach, including to the training of police officers and to the use of specialist officers.”
Its chief executive, Sandy Brindley, added that that could be improved further if
“issues with attitudes, training and culture”
within policing were addressed. On that point, it would be helpful if, in summing up, the cabinet secretary could respond to Ms Brindley’s point, as I know that tackling violence is a priority for the Government.
The act also aimed to avoid duplication of police work while protecting front-line police officer numbers. Police Scotland noted in its evidence to the committee:
“The frontline has been protected as result of the 2012 Act, with most police officers in local policing, based within our communities and supported by national, specialist resources … Everyone in Scotland now has access to an improved level of service and protection, balanced between equal access to specialist national resources and local policing that meets the needs of our geographically diverse communities, whether they be remote, rural, urban or island.”
That evidence was supported anecdotally by the committee’s visits, most recently to Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, which the convener mentioned, and, last year, to Angus, which John Finnie mentioned. On those visits, officers confirmed directly to members of the committee that they had far greater access to nationally available specialist resources such as the use of police helicopters in missing persons cases.
The committee also heard strong examples of partnership working such as the missing persons framework, the mental health strategy and the suicide prevention strategy, all of which were cited as examples of greater consistency in working practices. In June 2018, the previous cabinet secretary announced an independent review of the police complaints process, and the interim report was published in June of this year. One of its key recommendations was that complaints that involve senior officers should be dealt with more quickly, which I am sure was welcomed by fellow committee members.
As the committee reported, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority both have a non-statutory deadline of 56 days to investigate and conclude complaints, which is often not met. The committee therefore recommended the introduction of a set time for Police Scotland and the SPA to acknowledge receipt of complaints and inform officers who are the subject of complaints, and for witnesses to be interviewed following receipt of a complaint. It was welcome to note the interim report’s recommendation that
“officers should be made aware that they are the subject of a complaint against them at the earliest practicable point.”
The creation of Police Scotland did not come without its challenges—there were eight legacy forces with eight very different ways of doing things. That notwithstanding, greater consistency has been delivered nationally, particularly when dealing with crimes of a sexual nature. In addition, specialist resources are now being shared at a local level and police officer numbers have been protected. As we witness the impact of an austerity agenda that is squeezing our services across the public sector, there will continue to be challenges for the organisation.
However, to reflect on our current politics in closing, I note that, in recent days, we have witnessed the Conservative Government reverse its policy on convergence uplift payments for Scottish farmers and—yesterday—climb down on post-study visas. A cynic might say that an election is in the offing. I have to say that Liam Kerr, who is not in the chamber, had a bit of a cheek to mention the SNP’s record on police funding. There was not a peep from the Tory benches today about the £125 million that has already been paid to the UK Treasury. To James Kelly, I say that Labour’s policy on this issue is about as clear as its policy on Brexit.
Our officers in Scotland have helped to contribute to a hefty Boris bonus. It is depressingly predictable that, yet again, not a single Conservative member can stand and be counted and argue for that money to be rightly returned to the communities that our officers help to keep safe every day. Policing in Scotland has successfully reformed—perhaps it is time that the Scottish Tories followed suit.
I say to the three gentlemen having a triangular conversation that that is not polite when another member is speaking.16:10
I apologise for that, Presiding Officer.
In addition to the usual thanks that we give to our fellow committee members and the clerks, I extend particular thanks to colleagues on the Justice Committee. I have hugely enjoyed my time on the committee.
Looking at justice and, in particular, criminal justice matters, I am left with the conclusion that criminal justice issues span the vast swathe of public services. The issues that are dealt with in criminal justice are where those services fail, and it is those failures that result in people coming into contact with the criminal justice system, which, in one sense, makes them the most fundamental public policy issues that we examine.
My time on the committee has also instilled in me a huge admiration for police officers, who do an outstanding job, putting themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. Whatever police reform issues we bring up in debate people should be under no illusion: it is all said with admiration for the work that police officers do.
We need to look at the demands that we place on our police. The issue with SNP police policy is that it has been focused on two crude measures: the creation of a single police force and 1,000 extra police officers. However, every Administration since 1970 can claim to have increased police officer numbers by at least 1,000. That has been true since Heath onwards.
That leaves us with a conundrum. If we are to believe that we have the lowest level of crime in 30 years and also the highest number of police officers, why are police officers overstretched? That overstretch is certainly real. When the committee visited a police station in Galashiels, we were struck by how tidy and neat the staff mess-room was. The reason why it was so neat is that police officers do not often get the opportunity to use it.
Why do we have such high numbers of police officers but such overstretch? In part, that is about the changing nature of crime, such as the increase in online crime. We also deal with matters differently now. We have new sensitivities and thoroughness of approaches where, in the past, we would have used old-fashioned, blunt methods.
The fixation on those two measures—creating a single force with 1,000 extra police officers—has meant that other numbers have been ignored. The cabinet secretary pointed to the increase in capital funding in the most recent budget, but the brutal reality is that we have the fifth worst capital funding per employee of any police force in the United Kingdom. Our capital funding would have to be almost doubled to reach the average level for UK police forces, and it would need to be increased fivefold to reach the level of funding per employee of the Metropolitan Police.
The low level of capital funding has resulted in a lack of investment in the systems and IT that the police need to do their job in new and challenging circumstances and in a single police force. That is the cruel irony: the creation of the single police force was meant to be about freeing up police officers by creating a single set of core functions that would allow them to do their job rather than getting caught up in centralised bureaucracy, but it has resulted in police officers being used to backfill civilian roles, the centralisation of officers in central units and a reduction in the number of response officers. Although I freely admit that it is important to have specialised officers, officers at the point of need on the ground are now forced to go running from call to call—pulled from pillar to post—rather than being able to deal with people in the everyday situations that occur in their communities, which is where they need to be.
Brexit is now creating a crunch point for our police. According to Will Kerr, Police Scotland needs to reduce the number of officers by 700 due to a deficit of £35.7 million. That should be a wake-up call to us all—not just the figures but the fact that police officers feel the need to speak up publicly, which they do with reticence.
The police force needed investment to make a success of the reform. Five years on, that has still not occurred; we still have eight crime reporting systems and only in recent months have police officers got a single sign-on so that they do not need multiple logins to access emails, depending on where they are in the country—that is not acceptable for any 21st century organisation.
The issues go beyond investment. The structure and the governance of the single force were contentious through the passage of the bill, and history has borne out many of the concerns. One was about local accountability, which Liam McArthur, who is no longer in the chamber, was right to point out many of the issues with when we saw a stratification of our police. The irony for people in this part of the country was that it led to the break-up of the house-breaking team, only for it to have to be reinstated when that policy failed.
Other members have spoken about the complaints procedure, which I will mention briefly. It is too complicated and undermines the confidence that people have in the police, not least because, for many people, the first port of call is to report a complaint directly to the very body that they had an issue with in the first place. I hope that Dame Elish Angiolini’s review will address that matter.
The key central issue with governance was demonstrated by the departure of Phil Gormley, the previous chief constable. Although the people around the estate may have changed, the central issues have not been dealt with. There are still issues with regard to the Government’s powers of appointment and direction. The decision that he should stay on suspension was perhaps the right one, but the way in which the decision was made was wholly inadequate. If the SPA chair had no other option, I find it difficult to understand how that was anything other than a direction. How that should have been dealt with—putting the matter before Parliament—simply did not happen. Until the relationship between Government and the police is resolved, we will continue to have issues around governance. It could be dealt with through greater transparency and explicit protocols; that happens with other forces, using approaches that I have raised in Parliament.
Ultimately, although we all support the police force, this is a model of how not to undertake transformation. It could have been done differently, and investment is still needed to make the success of the single force that we all want to see.16:17
I thank fellow members of the committee for their contributions during our deliberations in the lead-up and their input into the reports’ final content. I wish Daniel Johnson well in his new committee; he has been a thoughtful contributor to the Justice Committee and has just delivered yet another thoughtful speech—he will be missed. I also thank the clerks and support staff for all their work on the reports’ collation and publication.
As has been said, the creation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was, and is, the biggest reform of the police and fire services since the Parliament’s inception—in fact, they are probably the biggest reform of public services over the 20 years of this Parliament. It has been challenging, but progress has undoubtedly been made.
It is worth remembering and reiterating the three main policy intentions of the 2012 act: to protect and improve local services despite financial cuts; to create more equal access to specialist support and national capacity; and to strengthen the connection between services and communities. The committee’s remit was primarily to scrutinise whether the policy intentions of the 2012 act have been realised and are being delivered.
The report into policing noted that a major driver of reform of the police service was the reduction in the Scottish block grant, estimated by the Scottish Government to be £3.3 billion in real terms between 2012 and 2016—it is worth reminding the chamber of that and putting it on the record. The committee recognised that, in the face of cuts from Westminster, it was essential to protect front-line delivery, and that is what the Scottish Government has done. As my colleague Jenny Gilruth highlighted, front-line policing numbers have been maintained. It is worth pointing out to Gordon Lindhurst that that is in stark contrast to what we have seen elsewhere. In the past nine years, police numbers in England and Wales have decreased by 14.8 per cent. Indeed, the number of officers in England and Wales is at its lowest since directly comparable records began in 1996. Therefore, it is fair to say that, although things here might not be perfect, they stand in stark contrast to the shambles down south, where community representatives regularly raise legitimate concerns. It is worth remembering that.
The committee also noted that reform of the police service was proposed to respond to the changing nature of policing in 21st century society and in response to a discussion paper that was produced by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland, which described the development of the system of police governance over the previous 50 years and highlighted what it called the
“weaknesses in police governance and accountability which have perpetuated since the 1962 Royal Commission and which, it is contended, must be redressed in support of any future model of policing for Scotland.”
The Scottish Government indicated that the new governance arrangements that were proposed in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill would respond to the weaknesses identified in that discussion paper.
For many practical reasons, reform was essential and the legislation was finally enacted in 2012. Seven years on, the act has been evaluated through a four-year programme that was established by the Scottish Government and that began work in 2015. So far, three evaluation reports have been published and a fourth is under way. The third report concluded that the evidence suggested that the first two policy aims of reform had largely been achieved but that the third policy aim, which is viewed as a high priority, is “the hardest to achieve”. That is a fair assessment.
Those findings are echoed by the committee’s findings. Its report states:
“Police Scotland has successfully reduced duplication of its support services and maintained the police service, despite significant financial constraints.”
It goes on:
“the creation of a single police service has achieved the policy objective of providing more equal access to specialist support, most notably improving Police Scotland’s approach to the investigation of sexual crimes and domestic abuse.”
We have heard powerful evidence from organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland that backs up that assessment. The committee noted, however, that it
“would be concerned if this has led to any unintended consequences, such as officers from local areas being redeployed and not replaced.”
The committee has invited the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to respond directly on that issue.
With regard to the third main policy intention of the 2012 act, which was to strengthen the connection between services and communities, the committee found that
“there were clearly issues with Police Scotland engaging effectively with local authorities in the early days of reform.”
That was in the early days, and there is an acknowledgement that the situation has improved. As the committee has been out and about, the feedback has been that matters have improved, particularly in the past 12 to 18 months. Again, that is a fair assessment of matters to date. The committee also welcomed
“the commitment by the Chief Constable of Police Scotland to include local scrutiny bodies earlier in the decision-making process”,
which again is to be welcomed.
Undertaking public sector reform is never easy. Sometimes, there are 101 reasons not to do something, but that does not mean that we should not do it. Sometimes, not everything will be perfect in the process of doing it. However, I am struck by the performance of Police Scotland, whether that is in its detection of crime and solving of murder cases, the huge improvement in the investigation of sexual offences or the revolution in support for victims of domestic abuse when compared to the unfortunately poor experience of too many women under the previous forces.
Police Scotland is not perfect but, without doubt, it is better and improvements are being made to deal with some of the weaknesses that have been identified over the piece, not least on governance. Police Scotland compares very well not just with forces in England and Wales but, most importantly, with those in the international arena. Police Scotland, particularly the police officers, should be commended for their work.16:25
As a former member of the Justice Committee—it now seems like I was a member in the dim and distant past—I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. For once, I am glad to be speaking towards the end of the debate, because it has been interesting to listen and follow the pattern of contributions.
It is fair to say that the verdict on the new police force, in particular, and the fire service is mixed. Although I am sure that my constituents, who are so close to the border, will be pleased that the SNP has such a keen eye on what is happening in England, they will still struggle to understand why some bad decisions were made at the start of the reforms. I will come to those decisions later in my speech.
The 2012 act came in long before I was elected, so I will express a personal remark. I still find myself agreeing with the Liberal Democrats—I note that Liam McArthur is not in the chamber to hear that—that there would have been other ways of achieving the same outcomes, without going through so much disruption at such a rapid pace.
I am extremely grateful to the Justice Committee for all the hard work that it does on behalf of the Parliament in providing much needed and continuous scrutiny. Whatever the on-going issues are, my experience locally has been that political and public interest in the job that our police and fire services do has kept up the pressure and helped to deliver—albeit slowly—the significant changes in how front-line services operate under the new structures. Many of the concerns have now been picked up and are being listened to.
However, there continue to be concerns. Recently, I heard that front-line police officers will no longer be available to answer questions for local media. Instead, local media will be directed back to the national service, which will not necessarily provide the accountability that people are looking for, although I understand the need for the organisation to have a central media-handling team.
I know that Oliver Mundell’s concerns are sincere, but does he agree that, although such issues are, of course, for this debate, they relate more to the operational independence of the chief constable.
I am pleased to hear the cabinet secretary make that point in one sense, because I do not think that such issues are for politicians. However, it highlights another problem—I was going to come to it at the end of my speech—which is that, when things are not quite as they should be and not as the public would expect, when there are issues with transparency and when things do not work as envisaged, politicians always say that those are operational matters; whereas, when credit is to be claimed for falling levels of crime and other bits and pieces, politicians are always keen to step in. We have to take a balanced approach. In order to ensure transparency and that our police service is accountable to our constituents, we have a job to do in raising concerns about what is happening operationally. There is a balance to be struck.
I pay tribute to the local officers in Dumfries and Galloway who work on the front line in both the police and fire services. They have worked very hard to make the best of the single force and single service, even when they have had personal reservations. Many of my constituents have greatly valued the efforts that many officers who serve locally have made to fight for the flexibility that is required to ensure that the positive local and community focus in Dumfries and Galloway, which is so highly regarded, has been retained. Often, that has required significant pushback against, and resistance to, institutional cultures that have been imported from other parts of the country—as we have heard from several members—and a perceived pressure to homogenise services.
That is one of the issues. A lot of how the public feel about policing is about perception and that is where more careful handling would work. We heard the minister speak earlier about fighting the battles of the past, but the problem is that the impact of these decisions lives on in our communities; people were left with a sour taste at the beginning of the process because there was a failure to recognise that not all parts of Scotland are the same and that strategies that work well in one area or community may not be appropriate in another. Many of the problems that we have seen since have stemmed from that failure.
There has also been a feeling in the police service that local knowledge and community engagement were not recognised at a national level as being important. I am pleased to say that some of this is changing and I credit Chief Superintendent Linda Jones and her predecessor Gary Ritchie for restoring—in so far as resources allowed—the appropriate systems and community-style policing that have proved so successful in tight-knit and largely rural communities for generations, where people feel the value of the police presence, want to work closely with the police and see them as an integral part of their community. In that light, I am particularly pleased about the adoption in recent months of voluntary opportunities for young people who are interested in policing. That will secure the legacy of the previous force in Dumfries and Galloway as we continue to make the best of the new model.
We move to the closing speeches. It is disappointing that not all the opening speakers are present in the chamber for these to begin.16:31
This has been a useful debate and the range of topics that members have covered show the committee’s breadth of work on both the reports. I reiterate what I said at the start: as John Finnie also said, we just do not find enough time to carry out post-legislative scrutiny in the Parliament. It is an important task and, as MSPs, we should reflect on that issue.
As others have done, I pay tribute to Daniel Johnson for his time on the Justice Committee. Daniel has gone from strength to strength after being elected as an MSP in 2016. He has the twin qualities of being able to be robust and hold the ministers to account but also being able to work in a constructive and consensual manner. I think that that is why he was so respected by members across the committee and I am sure that he will continue to do well and make a mark.
A number of interesting issues were raised during the debate. Daniel Johnson was right to make the point about the capital budget. The Government would point out that the capital budget has grown to £35 million in the current budget settlement. However, £88 million is required for ICT developments alone so there is clearly a shortfall there, which has to be addressed.
John Finnie made some interesting points about human rights, which can often be overlooked. Police Scotland would do well to take those points on board, particularly the points made by the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Unison Scotland about having an independent human rights adviser and human rights training for officers. It is an issue in which forces in Scotland and internationally have taken a greater interest in recent years and the committee’s work on that is important.
Both Shona Robison and Liam Kerr made the point that one of the original aims of the 2012 act was to strengthen the link between the service and local access to communities. In fact, Oliver Mundell has just been talking about the importance of people being able to see their police officers out and about in the local area.
I know that, in the area that I represent, community officers play a crucial role in having links with local community groups. It is clear that, as the 2012 act has been implemented, there has been a tension around the objective of improving local links. Calum Steele made the point that he felt that, when there were budgetary strains, local resources were sometimes the ones that were sacrificed. We need to do more to get the balance right in that respect. Daniel Johnson mentioned the disbandment of the teams in Edinburgh to tackle housebreaking, which is an example of a good local initiative that was compromised.
Liam Kerr made the valid point that we should take international examples on board. We are still going through a process of change. The committee visited Norway, which has gone through a reform process, where it took on board some valid points. It is important that we continue to learn.
Gordon Lindhurst said that there was a funding gap. From the evidence that Police Scotland gave and the discussions that the committee has had, it is clear that that is a challenge that will be an issue in the coming budget round. The cabinet secretary acknowledged that there would have to be discussions about that in the context of the budget-setting process.
Jenny Gilruth and Margaret Mitchell spoke about the police complaints process, which is an important issue. I know from casework that I have dealt with over the years that there is frustration among the public and serving police officers about the way in which complaints are dealt with. The process often takes longer than expected and there is a lack of transparency. I welcome the review that is being carried out by Dame Elish Angiolini. It is important, because it is clear that there are many concerns in that area.
The reports and today’s debate indicate that much is still to be done to achieve the objectives of the 2012 act. There are three areas in particular that the Government needs to take into account. If the police service and the fire service are to be able to meet the policy objectives that are set out in the 2012 act, they need to be properly funded. There needs to be proper local accountability and local input. Local communities must have confidence that the local operations are serving the objectives of their area. There have been issues to do with the governance of the SPA and the role of the Scottish ministers, and those matters need to be clarified and tidied up.
The exercise that the Justice Committee conducted and today’s debate have been useful in bringing some of the issues out into the open, and I am sure that the cabinet secretary will take on board many of the points that have been made.16:38
I am pleased to close for the Scottish Conservatives in this afternoon’s important debate about the Justice Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny reports on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. I will deal mainly with the IT aspects of those reports, but I want to thank our police and fire and rescue services for keeping us all safe; I appreciate all the work that they do, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances. I also join my colleagues in welcoming the work of the Justice Committee on its reports and the excellent work of its team of clerks.
The committee’s scrutiny of the 2012 act goes a long way in showing what improvements might be working five years later. It also opens wide the areas in which progress could be better achieved in practice. We must not forget that, as John Finnie so eloquently and rightly stated, our police are “the front-line defenders” of our citizens.
We have heard about the original motivations behind the proposed changes to the police and fire services. Both services faced considerable cuts to their budgets but arguably needed a more sustainable and streamlined way of operating without duplicate forces. To deliver that transformation, the 2012 act was to bring in equality of access, strengthened links between services and communities and improvements to local front-line work. However, on the whole, it has not gone far enough to achieve lasting efficiency.
Of course, improvements have been made, as we can see from the committee’s findings. Having a single police service has encouraged a greater emphasis on national units, meaning that crimes such as rape and sexual assault can be better investigated. Moreover, the approach in the investigation of murders and unexplained deaths has also seen a marked improvement. We have heard that in the face of significant reform all 356 Scottish Fire and Rescue Service stations have continued to operate well. However, such an overhaul has created some unintended issues that are in clear need of long-term solutions through adequate funding. We must keep our police officers and fire and rescue personnel safe.
My colleagues have brought to light the worrying lack of a modern IT system, which was referred to recently by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, who stated that IT capability was poor in Police Scotland. We cannot expect to have an efficient and streamlined police force when officers are hindered by the incapability of their IT system. At the moment, police officers cannot connect to another force’s IT system if they are out of their area. The fact that a new strategy has been only partially funded by the Scottish Government is a concerning oversight. As the vice-chair of the Scottish Police Federation said last year:
“The wastage in time and efficiency is staggering.”
A lack of proper investment in IT services could have a detrimental effect on the ability of police officers to carry out their duties as swiftly as possible. In some cases, police officers have even been sent to the wrong addresses. Both the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland have raised concerns that the draft budget for 2019-20 does not allow for full implementation of an ICT strategy.
A key aim of the 2012 act was to remove duplication and I am not alone when I suggest that that cannot be achieved without a national and updated ICT system. The roll-out of digital notebooks this summer in places such as Dundee and Kinross is a step in the right direction, but the Scottish Government must go much further in its funding of a new and updated IT strategy that optimises police officers’ use of time.
The lack of Government funding of vital resources for both services significantly limits their ability to serve the public. For instance, there are challenges in funding equipment and training for firefighters, which is an on-going concern. Without transformative financial investment, fire vehicle and station repairs cannot carry on. Clarity is needed—there needs to be a clear understanding of the SFRS’s long-term financial plan. For the sake of firefighters on the ground, we need to know exactly what investment will be planned for its vehicles, equipment and property.
Further issues have been raised about policing resources. Evidence came to light of the poor condition of some police stations, such as Lochgilphead and Oban in the west of Scotland, and it was of particular concern to me to read of the Clydebank rape and domestic abuse unit in my region, where a staff of 10 have only two cars to share between them and the mileage is probably pretty high.
Such reform surely needs to be accompanied by effective resource funding. With that we could have police and fire services that operate to their utmost capability. My colleague Margaret Mitchell raised the serious issue of police officers backfilling police staff roles. As the committee found, that takes away vital numbers from front-line policing and it must obviously be minimised. With violent crime on the rise, we need local and visible policing in our communities.
A reduction in the number of front-line firefighter jobs means that communities have not benefited from the reforms as much as possible. If issues surrounding firefighter recruitment and retention can be addressed, I believe that that service can easily be transformed in the way that the 2012 act intended. However, I realise that there are issues in the more rural areas.
At the centre of the changes, it is paramount to bear in mind the impact of the legislation on the mental wellbeing of police officers and firefighters. That is something that the committee reports shed light on. With the reduction in numbers across both services, the responders are dealing with a heavier workload, longer shifts and an underlying frustration that they are unable to respond to incidents as quickly as they would like.
Having fewer managerial posts in the fire service has resulted in stress and overwork in some cases, as the committee evidence showed.
Scotland’s police and fire services, which includes special constables and retained firemen and women, want to serve their local communities as best they possibly can. However, the effect of the momentous changes on workload and, as a result, people’s mental health, must be taken into account.16:45
In my opening remarks, I concentrated a fair bit on some of the challenges, but also the achievements of the police. I will come back to that later. I begin my closing remarks by focusing on some of the great successes of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. We have all mentioned the SFRS in our speeches, but it has not been mentioned as much as the police, partly because it is, to some extent, the victim of its own success in respect of service reform.
It is understandable that the job of scrutiny—both for those in opposition and those in government—is to reflect on the challenges, such as how to improve and how to ensure that the service moves on to the next level of transformation. Of course there have been challenges for the SFRS. However, it is widely recognised, that if we want a model of public sector reform, the achievements of the SFRS as a single service are a good model to follow.
I will make some points about the great work that the fire service has done since its reform. In Parliament, we often talk about collaboration. I have been a member for eight years—goodness, time is getting on—and there has always been discussion about collaboration. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service really put that discussion into action.
I met the chief fire officer a couple of weeks ago and we talked about the great collaboration between the SFRS and the Scottish Ambulance Service in the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest co-responding trials. That was an excellent example of public services working together to achieve a common aim. The primary aim of the trials was to reduce incident response times, with a longer-term aim of improving patient outcomes. Although the trials are currently on hold, given the negotiations on pay, they can be hailed as an absolute success. During the call-outs, the SFRS made 83 potential life-saving interventions, with 28 positive outcomes.
If we consider the important statistics on safety, we can see that fires have been reducing. Daniel Johnson was right to make the point that it is a long-term trend; nonetheless, I note that, since 2010, fires have reduced by 33 per cent and fire deaths have reduced by 29 per cent. That is not an accident or a coincidence, but goes to the heart of the preventative and good work that our fire officers do. I am sure that every one of us has stories from our constituencies of the excellent preventative work that the SFRS has done in our high schools and so on.
It is important that we do not overlook the fire service, but we should also not overlook some of the concerns that have been raised by the Fire Brigades Union, among others, about the reduction in firefighter numbers and about the need for appliances to be sent across the country just to provide basic cover. Will the cabinet secretary acknowledge that there are issues in the fire service and that the FBU and others have voiced criticisms?
I have looked at the FBU briefing, and there are some challenges. However, I just wanted to spend a few minutes recognising our fire officers’ great successes, because that point has not been given much time in today’s debate.
I want to offer Daniel Johnson some reassurances, if I can. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of firefighters: Scotland now has more firefighters per head of population than other parts of the UK, and the number of operational firefighters at 31 March 2018 was 184 higher than in the previous year. That is not to detract from concerns about the retained duty system and other issues that members have mentioned.
Will the cabinet secretary dwell for a minute on the issue of retained firefighters? If that issue is not resolved, there is a real danger that it will undermine all the excellent work—which the cabinet secretary has just outlined—that the fire service has been doing.
Of course I will reflect on that, and the Minister for Community Safety, who is not in the chamber, works very hard on the issue. The number of whole-time retained officers in the retained duty system has increased by 91 in the past 12 months, and there has been a small reduction of 15 among volunteer firefighters. However, the core issues around the RDS are not lost on me or the minister.
I echo the comments of Maurice Corry, Gordon Lindhurst and a number of others when they said that we should applaud our police officers and never, ever get complacent about the sacrifice that they make day in, day out. If ever we needed a reminder of that, the past couple of months have seen the terrible and tragic murder of PC Andrew Harper of Thames Valley Police and, closer to home, the death of PC Buggins, who died on duty in Montrose. We owe them all a debt of gratitude that we simply cannot repay.
I thank members for a very helpful and nuanced debate. I also echo James Kelly’s praise of Daniel Johnson for his time on the Justice Committee. I have often said that I enjoy working with Daniel Johnson, and I am sure that we will work together again, as he takes a clear interest in justice issues. I agree with him about taking a collaborative approach, and I am sure that James Kelly will also do so in his new role—I see him smirking mischievously at that suggestion.
I take issue with one thing that Daniel Johnson said. He seemed to suggest that the Scottish Government says that the only two metrics of success are having 1,000 additional police officers and the creation of the national police service. Having the 1,000 additional officers is not something that we are pinned to—we now say that it is for the chief constable to determine the right mix of officers. Those are not the only two metrics for success. We look at the pragmatic and practical effects of the national police service on the ground. One example of the very practical difference that the service has made to people is that we have the second-lowest crime rate in more than four decades. In addition, the vast majority of, if not all, murders are solved and detected. The investigation of sexual offences is much better and domestic abuse is getting a much greater focus. The majority of people think that the police do a good job in their local area, according to the crime and justice survey. We use a number of metrics and indices, which are focused on the practical and pragmatic differences to people in their everyday lives.
I see that I am running out of time, so I will just say that I commend the debate. I was going to talk about budgets and resources, but that debate will rage on, no doubt, and I hear members’ concerns.
We are in a good place post reform. Of course there are still challenges, but the Government is very up for taking them on. I thank members for a very good debate.
I call Rona Mackay to wind up the debate on behalf of the Justice Committee.16:53
This has been a wide-ranging debate about two of our most valued public services, and I have listened to the contributions with great interest. It has been a good-humoured and consensual debate.
I thank Daniel Johnson for being an excellent colleague on the Justice Committee. I also welcome James Kelly and look forward to working with him.
When the Justice Committee decided to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the police service, the view was expressed that the police service is in crisis. I am pleased to say that, following the committee’s scrutiny of every area of policing that is covered by the 2012 act, the evidence is clear that there is no crisis in policing. It is important to put that on the record.
That is not to say that improvements are not still needed—we have heard members detail them. I will outline some improvements and refer to what we have heard from across the chamber.
There are great success stories from the creation of the single police service, in particular in specialist services, as the convener mentioned. I thought that the convener gave a very accurate account of the evidence that we heard and which informed the report.
The committee was struck by the evidence that the single service has improved how it deals with victims of domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences. As my colleague Jenny Gilruth mentioned, Rape Crisis Scotland told the committee:
“In our experience, the move to a single police force has transformed the way rape and other sexual crimes are investigated in Scotland”.
That has been achieved through training police officers and use of specialist officers. Scottish Women’s Aid told the committee that
“Police Scotland’s response to reported domestic abuse has improved, dramatically in some places”
“the single force has produced a better informed, targeted and more consistent approach to the investigation of domestic abuse.”
As co-convener of the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children, I believe that that is a great step forward, especially in the light of the increase in reporting of those crimes.
Governance and oversight of policing played a large part in the committee’s scrutiny. We heard concerns about whether the SPA is adequately fulfilling its role of scrutinising the service, including concerns about lack of critical challenge and of consultation. The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s recent inquiry into the proposal for police officers to use cyberkiosks to search the phones of witnesses and victims of crimes, which John Finnie and Liam McArthur mentioned, highlighted that issue. That was an important piece of work. The conclusion was that the SPA must consult more widely on all proposals, and must be far more open and accountable. That is now being put into practice. I look forward to the SPA review that the convener mentioned.
There have been a number of thoughtful contributions from members today. Margaret Mitchell talked about backfilling: Police Scotland will carry out an analysis of demand data, which we look forward to seeing.
Daniel Johnson talked of the capital backlog. The cabinet secretary said that his door is always open for discussion of issues around the fleet estate.
Liam Kerr and James Kelly talked about the SPA’s historical problems, and about backfilling and recruitment problems, and said that we had learned lessons and that we must continue to learn for the future.
John Finnie spoke about the importance of human rights and said that Police Scotland is the front-line defender of human rights. I could not agree more. He also spoke about centralisation and how it impacts on the day-to-day operation of policing.
Liam McArthur spoke of accountability and transparency. He took a trip down memory lane and painted a gloomy picture of the evidence that we heard.
Okay. I am told that the picture was “Balanced”.
Fulton MacGregor talked of the positive changes of reform, how the public feels safer and the local area success in reduction of the crime rate.
Gordon Lindhurst spoke of concern about the long-term strategy regarding funding. The cabinet secretary said that in order to avoid drastic cuts in the service, the Government would fund deficits.
Daniel Johnson rightly praised police officers and talked about the demands on police and the changing nature of crime these days, as well as the capital funding issues.
Shona Robison spoke of the origins of the reform and its policy intentions. She said that despite issues in the early days, things have improved.
Oliver Mundell initially said that there are other ways of achieving the outcomes, but that concerns are being listened to. He also talked of local knowledge and accountability.
I turn to the committee’s report on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Our evidence concluded that the service has met, or made good progress in meeting, the three main policy intentions of the act. I echo the comments that the cabinet secretary made in his closing remarks.
The committee found that the fire service has, on balance, protected and improved local services, despite there having been many challenges, including issues with recruiting and with keeping retained and volunteer firefighters, particularly in remote and rural areas. Recruitment issues and budgetary pressure mean that appliances often cannot be used to respond to call-outs, either due to shortage of staff or staff being diverted as emergency medical responders. For the safety of the public and the health and safety of our fire service staff, those issues must be addressed urgently. I am confident that the Government will take them seriously.
Despite growing demands, the fire service has responded to every emergency call with an appropriate response, and has made good progress towards creating more equal access to specialist support and national capacity.
The committee also heard that the connection between services and communities has been strengthened, with more local councillors now making decisions about how fire and rescue services are delivered in their areas.
The fire service has made great progress but faces many challenges. John Finnie, James Kelly and Fulton MacGregor spoke of the Fire Brigades Union’s concerns and said that there is a need to negotiate in good faith—I share that view. The changing role of firefighters is obvious: they are first responders and have many new challenges to address, which must be reflected in any negotiation.
I thank the people who provided evidence and suggestions to improve the legislation, and I thank the clerks for their hard work.
The committee recognises that the dedication, commitment and hard work of police officers, firefighters and staff during a period of significant change is responsible for the many successes of the police and of the SFRS. We owe them a huge debt for their having embraced transformational change with their customary professionalism and hard work. On behalf of the committee, I record our thanks to them.